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Shop View: Black Bear Auto

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SHOP STATS: Black Bear Auto  Location: Bristol, Conn.  Operator: Barry Balaban  Average Monthly Car Count: 320  Staff Size: 7  Shop Size: 3,800 sq. ft. Annual Revenue: $1.4 million  


1 / Outdoor Masterpiece

After an eight-month road construction project turned into a two-year nightmare, threatening Black Bear Auto’s business, owner Barry Balaban decided to take action. After running into a graffiti artist at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony, he hired him to give the auto repair shop a new look that fit the name.

“The building was to keep us in business,” says Balaban.

With 200 cans of spray paint and 75 hours of artistic labor, the graffiti artist was able to finish the project in three months—right after construction ceased and brought customers his way once again.

“The guy dreams in color,” says Balaban. “Everything he does, no one has ever seen before.”

2 / Relaxing Getaway

Out in the back, you can find a place to sit back and enjoy—not too common for an auto repair shop. You can even find a bear off duty taking a little snooze on a tree.

Balaban’s wife is an artist, and he says she has really tied everything together.

3 / Always Open

The exterior looks to be a log cabin, with the bay doors painted to look like the business is always open. You can find cars being worked on in the display, mainly with the bears themselves in uniform getting the job done. This is Balaban’s favorite part of his shop.

4 / Marketing Madness

The outside design wasn’t so much about appealing to customers, but instead about helping the shop get back on the map. Since the paint job, the auto repair shop has become one of the most recognized buildings in the town. The shop has attracted lots of people, and not just for auto repair. Typically, you will find busloads of kids stopping to take pictures. During the Pokemon Go craze, the shop became a spot for players to hit up.

        “This is a destination place, not just an auto repair shop,” says Balaban.

5 / Carving Out Success

The first carving came about after when Balaban was trying to decide his logo. When Balaban turned 45, he says he had a little midlife crisis and got his first tattoo: a bear in a hat.

“I didn’t know how our logo was going to finish. I actually had to go finish the tattoo on my arm to see how it was going to turn out,” says Balaban. 

This is where the tires and the wrench came into play.

“I now have this huge tattoo all the way down my arm, like I’ve been stamped by my own logo,”  says Balaban. 

He then brought his logo to life after his family took a trip up to New Hampshire for Thanksgiving weekend and spotted the carved bear on the side of the road.

“It was another one of those ‘get us out there on the map’ things,” says Balaban.

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