This story is part of a series focusing on the 30th Street Industrial & Economic Corridor.
Todd Kubera stands outside his shop, Schram Auto Body, at 3001 West Lisbon.
Kubera, who grew up right in the area on 30th and Vliet, says the neighborhood has its pluses and minuses. “It was up and down; it had its ups and downs, though, like crime, then it’d be good, then it’d be bad. It was just goin’ up and down. I mean, I learned to just deal with a lot of the stuff and, you know…talk to your neighbor and stuff, work something out to where you can get the neighborhood back to the way it’s supposed to be.”
What’s the neighborhood “supposed to be”? “Neighbors should work together,” says Kubera. “Like, if there’s some crime, they need to report it. I mean, if there’s something wrong like if the dog’s barking or something you need to come tell me and stuff, you know, or if you feel like something’s not right you need to talk to each other about it to try to, you know, solve the problem that needs to be solved.”
That’s why Kubera jumped at the chance to open a business in the area, even though he doesn’t live there any more. “I still got a lot of friends and neighbors and business associates over here,” he says. “I mean, I feel like I wouldn’t let go of – like, [I] have plans for this [building] – I would never let it go. Like, the guy I bought the building from, you know, we talked for hours and stuff before we actually worked the deal out…I told him I grew up over here, knew a lot about the neighborhood and, you know, I wasn’t afraid to open a business over here.”
“Don’t never give up – I mean, don’t call yourself a failure or nothin’ like that – cause you can always go back and you can always fix the problem that needs to be fixed.”
He knows changing the neighborhood for the better might take some time but, as someone who had his daughter at a young age – he was 17 – Kubera isn’t a stranger to adversity. “It was a challenge, you know?” he says. “At first, you know, like, ‘How can I support this kid?’ so I was doing a lot of odd jobs and I worked with a guy who owned a lot of real estate around here and we did a lot of work on houses…that’s, kind of, how I bought the Pampers and the shoes and clothes and stuff.”
Perseverance is the key, he says. “You can always go back and you can always fix the problem that needs to be fixed.”
Now, Kubera’s been working with cars for about 25 years but, at the beginning, it was all about learning the ins and outs of the industry. “I started helping out people. Like a friend of mine had a old repair shop here on 31st between Vliet and Cherry, over here, and I started working with him – he used to do a lot of old Corvettes and stuff and he taught me a lot. Then, I worked out at a car lot in Racine, you know, car lot and a junkyard in Racine and I learned a lot of stuff there, you know, just experience.”
“I enjoy working on cars and I’m good at taking things apart, puttin’ it back together, I guess – that’s the main thing,” he says. “Like, when I worked at a factory, I used to put the machines together and stuff – stuff I never did before; I was just good at putting it back together.”
And, that’s what Kubera hopes to do with his old neighborhood. He’s not the only one, either; he says his friend Dave and his wife, who own a coffee shop and a couple properties in the area, are “doing amazing things.”
In the end, though, it’s all about the people. “We had a customer a while ago, he wrote me a card around Christmas time he was so happy we got his car fixed so fast,” says Kubera. “And, you know, stuff like that makes you feel good; when a person says ‘thank you’ or a person gives you a card to show you appreciation for what you did for them. You know, it means a lot.”
“I mean, I enjoy helping other people – that’s another reason why I, kind of, work on cars cause some people can’t afford to take it to a big shop…and if, you know, if you got a good attitude, I’ll do the best I can to work with you on a project. You know, as long as you have a good attitude and, you know, are not disrespectful or nothin’, I’ll do my best to work with you and try to save you some money – I don’t have a problem doin’ that. You know, and, to me, that makes me feel good at the end of the day.”
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