“I want to do for cars what Howard Schultz did for coffee,” said Matt Bell, the owner of The Shop in Sodo. “He didn’t invent it, just created an environment for people to enjoy it.”
Matt Bell was in his Queen Anne garage, trying to get his 1949 Chevy truck running when frustration led to inspiration.
He needed better tools. He needed a car lift. He needed someone who had done this before, who could offer advice while Bell did the work himself.
“I thought, ‘There’s gotta be a better way to do this. There’s gotta be a do-it-yourself garage.’ ”
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So Bell, 44, talked up the idea with friends, found some investors and created “The Shop,” a members-only haven for car collectors tucked along busy Sixth Avenue in Seattle’s Sodo district.
The 36,500-square-foot warehouse includes storage for 150 cars, with room for an additional 300 cars (and boats and trailers) in the warehouse next door. There are two wash bays and six car lifts, with state-of-the-art tools and equipment available to members. Mechanic services are offered at a discount and there are plans for The Shop to host car-focused classes and events.
Members have access to two meeting rooms, a cigar-friendly card room, a pool table, and a virtual-reality driving simulator.
The Shop is also the home of Ethan Stowell’s newest restaurant, Derby, which is open to the public, but is also where members can bond over BLTs and other comfort foods, as well as a full bar. (You’ll know Stowell is in the kitchen if his scooter is parked out front.)
All of this will cost you, of course.
Members can choose from two levels: “Founders” pay a $2,000 membership fee, and then $250/month; and “Standard” members pay $500 to register and then another $150 a month. Storage is another $200 a month, and the card room, meeting rooms, wash bay or car lift can be reserved for a fee.
While The Shop bills itself as “The Country Club for Gearheads,” there is a democracy about the place. Members range from city employees to CEOs — and the cars reflect that.
I walked past a pristine Chrysler LeBaron worth about $5,000, and peered under the hood of a 2006 Carrera GT worth $1 million. There’s a perfectly restored Volkswagen bug, as well as a stretch limousine and a “Moose Motorcycle” — both owned by Macklemore.
There are a couple of Rolls Royces and Bentleys (“Seahawks players,” someone told me) and a Lotus that has been taken apart and left in a pile in its spot, like an abandoned Star Wars droid.
“I love this,” Bell said, his 6-foot-5-inch frame towering over the sight. “It makes me happy. Someone brought it here and just tore the whole thing apart.”
In 2007, 8,014 restored cars — those over 30 years old — were registered in Washington state. Last year, that number had grown to 11,657, an increase of 45 percent.
“The car community is bigger than I thought it was,” Bell said. “People are reluctant to drive something that brings attention to themselves because we are a culture about others. But when you have a place where you can enjoy each other’s passion … you can fly your freak flag here.”
Bell has done plenty of that in his life. He moved here from Missouri when he was 10. He first took the wheel at 13 — his grandfather’s car, on the family farm.
“It’s the energy, it’s the power, it’s the freedom,” he said of being behind the wheel.
“On a motorcycle, when you roll the throttle and it throws you forward, it’s like it’s an extension of your body.”
The first vehicle he owned was a Yamaha YZ100 motorbike that he bought with money from his paper route.
His first car was a “hand-me-down Oldsmobile Delta 88” that he nearly wrecked before he finally bought a 1973 K5 Blazer.
“That was a cool car,” he said, gone for a moment in the memory of the thing.
Bell, 44, is the divorced father of three perfectly spaced daughters — aged 12, 10 and 8. He worked in technology — enterprise software — and ran business units and companies.
“I decided after my dad died that life is short,” Bell said. “He worked really hard and was dedicated and had just started to enjoy life when he died.”
So when the idea came to him, he stayed with it.
“I want to do for cars what Howard Schultz did for coffee,” Bell said. “He didn’t invent it, just created an environment for people to enjoy it.”
Bell sees The Shop becoming the center of the area’s car culture — especially since Seattle’s density has meant fewer places to park cars.
Many new members have signed up just to store their cars, and appreciate The Shop’s proximity to not only I-90 and Interstate 5, but the Sodo light-rail station. Members can take the train, walk over and take their cars for the day, then drop them off and head back home on the rails.
On Seahawks Sundays, members can park their cars at The Shop, grab a bite and a drink at Derby and take a shuttle down to CenturyLink Field.
Outside, new member Tim Dodge was standing beside a flatbed truck holding the 1967 Pontiac GTO he inherited from his father.
The elder Dodge bought the car in 1985 to replace the one he had sold decades before, when he needed a station wagon for his family. It ran well enough for him and his wife to take it out, “and get some of those old GTO memories back,” Dodge said. But sometime in 1986 his father parked it in his garage in Washougal, Clark County, and left it there.
“Ever since he passed, it’s been sitting in his garage,” said Dodge, who lives in West Seattle. The family recently emptied out the house and brought the GTO out. Dodge’s cousin loaded up the car and brought it to The Shop.
“We’re going to start working on it,” Dodge said. “Get it done so my mom and I can bomb around in it again. She’s excited.”
Bell sees a community building around members like Dodge. It’s a place where they can get their memories back, and make new ones together.
“I’ve never been a part of something that means so much to other people and to myself,” Bell said, “or that is so rewarding.”