Jimmy's Broadway Automotive is a breath of fresh air in a city full of dingy design

How many Tucson buildings do you love? What do you drive by that makes your day a little prettier, a little happier? How much of the city makes you proud to live here?

Don't start shouting all at once.

We've got a few nice buildings--most of them old churches and government buildings--but in general we Tucsonans are defenseless connoisseurs of crappy design and cut-rate construction. What else do we have to do while we sit in traffic but watch ugly new buildings go up? Today the plywood, next week the aluminum-framed windows and spray-on stucco, topped off by paint in various shades of dreck.

What an unaccustomed pleasure, then, to see a serviceable old building on a major street not only preserved but used, and not only used but loved.

The next time you're plowing through the clutter and grime of midtown, take a moment to enjoy Jimmy's Broadway Automotive on the southwest corner of Broadway and North Tucson boulevards. Clean and bright as a new pack of cards, redecorated last year with cheerful retro colors and smashing signage, it's a delight to the eye and a thriving bit of vintage Tucson. It looks so good it seems, well, out of place.

The shop's revamped retro look is new as of last summer, but it's honest: Owner David Shinkel's family has been in the gas and auto-repair business in the Sam Hughes neighborhood for 50 years. His grandfather, Jimmy McDowell, opened Jimmy's Service Station at the corner of East Sixth Street and Tucson Boulevard--where Long Wong's is now--on April 1, 1956. (Yes, next month is the operation's 50th anniversary.)

Shinkel opened his own shop in the late-'40s era building at 2448 E. Broadway Blvd.--formerly Don Cookey's Union--as Broadway Automotive in 1984. In the meantime, his father, Larry, had taken over Jimmy's and continued to operate it until the early '90s. Then he lost the lease and moved his business in with David's.

"I always say that it took me 18 years to get out of my dad's house, and then he came and moved in with me," Shinkel says.

Eventually they combined the two operations as Jimmy's Broadway Automotive.

"I wanted to keep my grandfather's identity," says Shinkel about the name.

Today Jimmy's is all about auto-repair; they stopped pumping gas in 1996.

"The tanks were getting old and we didn't want them leaking," he says. "And it would have cost so much to replace them that everything I made on gas would have gone to straight to the bank. That was a sad day for me. My mother's family started selling gas back in Indiana in 1923."

Longevity is a theme at Jimmy's Broadway. Several employees have worked for one Shinkel or another for more than 20 years, and the shop has customers from the neighborhood who go back even further.

"I think that the last of my grandfather's original customers died just a couple years back," says Shinkel.

A friend who's a graphic designer, Shaun Wolden of Spiderbyte Communications, put together the business' fresh new look after seeing an office clock with a design by Cook and Company Signmakers, 134 S. Tucson Blvd. That clock, and the pretty yellow-and-blue color scheme that Shinkel's wife, Phyllis, had established in the station's "award-winning" restroom were Wolden's inspiration. He and Shinkel ran with it, coordinating fonts, colors and patterns on the outside to the inside of the building, and on to business cards and the shop's Web site.

Shinkel, in a grease-free, Jimmy's Broadway-blue shirt embroidered with the company logo, shows the place off with obvious pleasure. (Stop by anytime for a look at the restroom, which is truly like no service station bathroom you've ever seen.)

"It's nice being a little part of the history of the neighborhood and of Tucson."

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