The last mechanic standing on Ross Avenue is taking his final bow. Dallas City Council voted Wednesday to deny Hinga Mbogo's request for another two-year extension, citing, with a heavy heart, that he had broken his promise given two years ago to close down his auto repair shop in the 3500 block of Ross Avenue.
"I am still mad," says the 62-year-old Mbogo, a Kenya native who came to America to build a life as an auto repair mechanic. "I still haven't gotten hold of their decision, still getting used to it. It's beginning to sink in."
A stocky man with strong hands and a compelling smile, Mbogo built a reputation for 30 years on Ross Avenue as an honest mechanic among his customers, some of whom included the city of Dallas and the Dallas Independent School District. His auto repair shop was recognized as the best in Dallas in 2014 by the Dallas Best Business Association. He also put up a good fight against his District 14 City Council member, Philip Kingston.
“I would feel for him more if he wasn’t such a ‘welsher,'” Kingston says. “He puts forth a deal and backs out.”
Kingston stressed that Mbogo had given his word, and there is no backing out. He even pulled up a 2013 video to remind Mbogo and everyone else of what transpired in these same council chambers two years ago.
Kingston told the council and Mbogo's supporters that he’s not saying Mbogo needs to move off his land; he's more than welcome either to open up another kind of business or to sell his property. “It’s not like the land isn’t worth anything,” says Kingston, who was also neighborly enough to send a few brokers and other interested parties to Mbogo to help him sell his property.
“But I think he’s holding out for more money,” he says.
Mbogo says he wasn't holding out for money. He was simply operating his auto repair shop. Since 1985, he's been offering repair services in an area of town once known for auto dealers, body dealers and drug dealers. But the auto repair shops and used car lots that once lined Ross Avenue have long since disappeared after a 2005 zoning change specifically targeted those kinds of businesses. But he remained, trying to reach his 65th birthday when he could retire with his wife, possibly, back to his homeland in Kenya.
“I knew I could make a life here in America,” Mbogo says. “I’ve done good. I’ve never slept hungry, and I’ve never been on public assistance. This is when I should be sitting back, saying, ‘Wow, I did good.’ This was going to be my retirement.
"It was hard and rough to pay the mortgage and taxes ($13,000 last year)," he continues. "But I could see that light at the end of the tunnel. Now it’s going out.”
“They’re blocking it,” his wife, Grace, adds.
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Being an auto mechanic has been a lifestyle for Mbogo, who calls his auto repair shop his second home. He was only asking for another two years so he could retire and not lose money for retiring early. He admits to signing a five-year lease on another location but quickly realized that the building was in worse condition than his current property and that he had made a mistake, something his attorney pointed out in a letter to city officials late last year. "It is prohibitively expensive for him to convert his property from its current use or to re-establish it in a different part of the city," he wrote. "Instead, he wishes to continue to earn his investment in the property back by maintaining his automobile shop and then retiring.”
More than 50,000 people signed an online petition to stop the city from closing Mbogo's auto repair shop, and Bill Maurer, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, also took up his cause, claiming that a local government shouldn’t have the ability to destroy Mbogo’s investment just because city officials or neighborhood associations don’t find them appealing.
Maurer calls Mbogo’s story of growing up in Kenya to move to America to open a successful mechanic shop, “a true American dream."
“But his American dream is not what the city of Dallas wants on Ross Avenue,” he says.