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Making family history at Frank’s Marathon auto service

Frank Gillespie Jr. breaks out in a slight smile when he remembers his father and the days and years they worked alongside each other.

“My dad was a gentleman in the auto repair business, he took care of people,” Frank Jr. says. “He would give customers a break if they needed it. He was a handshake-kind-of-guy.”

Frank Gillespie Sr. left his Southern Ohio roots in the mid-1950s to work at a Sohio gas station in Columbus, and it wasn’t long before he was managing the Sohio station at the corner of Fishinger and Mountview roads in Upper Arlington. The year was 1959. Seven years later, he took over the Sohio dealership about two miles away at 3116 Riverside Drive.

And the rest, as they say, is history. A family history. Frank Jr. began working for his dad at age 13 — changing tires and “hanging around” — and never left the combination gas station/auto repair shop. The two Franks bought the Riverside Drive property together in 1978 and Frank Jr. took over sole proprietorship when his dad retired and the station became a BP dealer in the mid-1990s. It became Frank’s Marathon in 2001. Frank Sr. passed away in 1998.

Frank’s mom, Peggy, was a fixture in the station’s mini-store for nearly 20 years, working the cash register and keeping up with inventory. His son Tyler and daughter Ashley worked in the store part-time as high school and college students. His 33-year-old son, Jordan, joined the staff two years ago as a part-time mechanic working Saturdays.

Frank’s two full-time auto mechanics, Adam Wheeler and Adam Bennett, have worked for him 23 and 13 years, respectively.

“It really is a family and the two Adams are part of that family,” Frank says. “I don’t fuss with them anymore. I trust them, they trust me. And customers trust me and the customers trust them.”

And the customers keep Frank’s Marathon busy. Very busy. With only two mechanics manning the bays at any one time, Frank’s works on between 30 to 50 cars a week.  Longtime customers and referrals dominate the workload. Frank is on a first-name basis with most of them. Some have been buying gas and getting oil changes there since Frank Sr. took over in 1966. Frank’s Marathon specializes in routine car maintenance, brake and exhaust work, and electrical and diagnostic testing — and does other types of repair.

Operating one of only two remaining full-service gas pumps in Columbus, Frank’s Marathon claims to be Upper Arlington’s oldest continuous auto repair shop. Frank Gillespie says honesty is Job One. With honesty comes trust and repeat business.

“We tell it like it is, we’re probably painfully honest sometimes,” Frank says. “When people call us or we call them, we lay it out for them. This morning, I suggested to one guy that he not put any more money in his VW. We made a living off the car, but at some point you have to stop the bleeding.

“We likely involve less BS than any other operation in town. That’s worked well for us.”

At 61, Frank can’t remember the last day he missed work because of illness. He’s normally a fixture at his station from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. each weekday and 7:30 a.m. to 2-3 p.m. each Saturday. He sometimes stops by the station early Sunday for a couple of hours of paperwork.

He bicycles 125 to 150 miles a week in the spring, summer and fall and spends the winter months regularly working out at the gym. He’s completed five 180-mile Pelotonia bike rides to benefit the James Cancer Hospital at Ohio State University. Frank says he hasn’t missed a full day of work because of illness in at least 10 years.

“I get a cold, I come to work. I get a headache, I come to work,” he says. “I was never one to lay around much.”

Frank developed a love for fast cars at an early age and owned Corvettes and muscle cars when he was younger. “Retirement” is not part of his vocabulary. He’d like to expand his operation at its current site and possibly hire son Jordan on full-time.

“I was a car guy when I was kid. I always liked to fix cars and make them go faster,” Frank Jr. says. “And I still like to play with cars.”

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