SPARTA, NJ – For years there have been rumors about the property at 5 West Shore Trail formerly called Carl’s Auto Body owned by Rachael and Steve Scro. The most recent development in the Lake Mohawk Country Club parking lot issue has brought that property back into the spotlight.
TAPinto Sparta spoke with Steve Scro about the property. Immediately it is apparent that the former Carl’s Auto Body is much more than the four walls and parking spaces to him, it is “near and dear to my heart,” Scro said.
To get to the present, it is important to go back. Back all the way to the “50’s or 60’s” when his grandfather and uncle started the body shop business in East Orange. In the early 1970’s when the neighborhood began to turn and “we didn’t feel safe anymore,” they left and “found a home in Lake Mohawk.”
Originally a BP gas station, that “became my world,” Scor said. He said as a boy he would look out over the country club board walk and think about big things for his future. Scro would pump gas and help out in the shop. Eventually his grandfather took out the gas pumps because it disrupted the work going on in the body shop. “I would be holding the end of a bumper and the bell would ring so I’d have to put it down and go pump the gas.”
One interesting note is that both his grandfather and uncle were named Carmen. Carl was the name on their work shirts, so everyone just called his grandfather Carl so after a while he answered to it, Scro said.
“People came in and a lot of good was done. They came in with a problem- a broken car, and we gave them a solution,” Scro said. “We always gave them more than they expected.” If they came in with an issue on one part of the car, they would scrub the whole car before giving it back to the owner. “Do more and give more was the lesson I learned,” Scro said.
Scro was raised by his grandfather and uncle. Uncle Carmen is still alive, dealing with the effects of Parkinson's disease. When he worked in the shop, Uncle Carmen "enjoyed talking with people and helping them solve their problems." Scro said, “He has a very big heart."
When his uncle needed to sell the building Scro knew he would buy it. “There was major family history” in that building. Part of the history was the need to do good, Scro said. He fixed up the building “so I would be proud of it when I drive by,” and so “it would be in harmony with all of the other buildings and businesses in that area.”
Scro said after he made the improvements to the building his uncle was moved to tears, “knowing all of the lessons they instilled in me to do good took hold.”
The old Carl’s Auto Body hosts events for children, animals and law enforcement, Scro said. The building has hosted OSCAR animal adoptions, emergency services' ice cream socials and trainings for police, CERT and other township organizations. It serves as a depot for the county Police Chief’s Cram the Cruiser food drives. “The vehicles drive into the building, the food is unloaded and they drive out,” Scro said, held there until it can be distributed to the food pantries.
The building has also served as a command center after major storms for emergency services and JCP& L to stage and plan their responses.
“The municipal building does not have a large space other than the court room. That is not conducive to the trainings that the township needs,” Mayor Molly Whilesmith said, about the partnership with the township in the past.
While he may do something more with it in the future, it is important that it will be something that is complimentary to the area, according to Scro.
For the record, he is not putting in a brew pub; the plaza “already has a great brew pub” in Krogh’s. It’s not going to be another restaurant either, he said. “I want to help support and join hands with the folks that are already there.”
Another issue people in the community have grumbled about is the ‘no parking’ signs that currently prohibit parking on the grounds. Scro said the ‘no parking’ issue has been a constant irritant to he and Rachael. Officials told him that he had to prohibit parking there, primarily because he does not occupy the space all the time, creating a liability.
Now with the proposed lease with the township, they could not be more pleased. Not only can the no parking signs come down, people will be encouraged to park there.
“This makes us very happy because now we don’t have to think about not allowing people to park there,” Scro said.
Scro believes in the ideal; “think big, believe big, dream big to be big.” He wants to do his part to “put Sparta on the map.” Scro “believes this area is so special” that he tries to help ensure the community “gets the love it deserves.”
The resolution to approve the agreement between the Scros’ and the township to allow parking at 5 West Shore Trail will be on the agenda at the Sparta Township Council meeting on Tuesday.
“If nothing else I feel I did it justice and will continue to do well by it, to pay homage to my grandfather and uncle,” Scro said.