In 1938, David Clausen opened Clausen Servicenter on the corner of Franklin and First Avenue in Stevens Square-Loring Heights. It operated as a Sinclair gas station and full service center. Gas at the time cost 20 cents per gallon.
David’s son, John Clausen Sr., grew up in the family’s home just a couple blocks away in Whittier and remembers seeing horse-drawn junk collectors passing down the alleys near the shop as a kid.
(As the daughter of a former mechanic, I can confirm that I grew up noticing Mustangs, but they didn’t have any hooves in my time.)
John Sr. began working at his dad’s shop pumping gas, washing cars, and performing basic services when he was a teenager.
“[My dad] thought it was great being in business for yourself because you only had to work half days,” John Sr. said. “Twelve hours was his idea of half a day.”
John Sr. worked from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. during that era.
For the last 50 years, John Sr. has owned the service center and his son, John Clausen Jr., focuses on the daily operations.
The Clausen building has remained the same over the decades, but the shop’s services have changed. Clausen stopped selling gas 20 years ago when new regulations required them to update their facilities. They started selling used cars when John Sr. took over the shop in 1970.
Today they continue to sell used cars and fix nearly anything that drives (or tows) up to the door.
The neighborhood around the shop has changed quite a bit over the decades. John Sr. said that the residential neighborhood he grew up in became busier, more bustling, and the early 2000s brought crime.
“It got pretty rough for a while,” he said. “We used to have people working in our driveway right out in the middle selling drugs or prostitutes out there on the corner.”
Pok Nhaean has been a mechanic at Clausen since he graduated from Dunwoody in 1994–which he correctly noted was before I was born. Nhaean pointed out the various stores on Franklin that used to be apartments and vice versa and lamented the loss of several flower shops.
“On Valentine’s Day, people were lining up in all different parts right here,” Nhaean said.
Since then, he said, the neighborhood has been “coming up” again, though the doctors and lawyers that he used to service are more infrequent. Nearby neighbors and people driving by make up most of the business.
“When I first started here, almost everybody that came through the door, we knew they were customers. And now I don’t know 90% of them,” he said. “It’s a whole different ball game.”
In the past five years or so, John Jr. has taken over the business operations from his dad.
“This is about it for me right now,” the older Clausen said while motioning to the desk in the temperate back room with a calculator and some papers on the desk. “I let those guys do all the work. I don’t even know what’s going on out there,” John Sr. said.
When asked about the daily goings-on at the shop, the younger Clausen said that every day is different.
“There’s never a dull moment,” John Jr. said.
One such memorable moment was when a customer burst into the shop in a panic, saying that her ferret had escaped while traveling and was stuck somewhere in the car.
“We had to rip her dash apart to get the ferret out,” John Jr. said. Nhaean, while perched in a hoisted car, interjected that it was a lizard, not a ferret. Or was it a bearded dragon? They couldn’t remember, and neither could agree on the size. They successfully rescued the pet, much to the woman’s relief.
“That was a fun one,” John Jr. said.
I asked my dad, a former mechanic, if he had any insider questions to ask the Clausens. He said that sometimes customers at his stores paid for other customers’ work. Does that happen at Clausen Servicenter?
It happens, according to John Jr., and he said it’s much better than the alternative– when customers can’t pay.
John Sr. and Nhaean both made it clear that they value honesty in the business and that’s why their customers keep coming to them.
“Everybody thinks they’re getting ripped off,” Clausen said. “We try not to do anything that doesn’t need to be done. If somebody comes in with a car that’s completely not roadworthy, we will tell them ‘there’s nothing you can do about it. Your car is beyond repair.’”
As for the future of the business, John Sr. said he doesn’t know what’s in store.
“When we stopped selling gas, I thought this was the end,” he said. “It never was. It even got better for us.”
Clausen Servicenter is located at 22 E. Franklin Ave. and is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m..