Jeffrey Robinowich is a “people person” – and also a dog and snake lover.
Customers and friends can find Robinowich, owner of Morris Auto and Towing on May River Road in Bluffton, at his shop daily along with his shop mates: Archie, a pit bull and American bulldog mix and an “absolute sweetheart” purebred, and Tiny, a sinewy 14-foot Burmese python.
Archie is free to roam the grounds, which is literally littered with automobiles of all makes, models and ages. Tiny stays put in a cage in the office and likes to sleep.
Even though his oldest son, Phillip, a certified mechanic who attended the NASCAR Technical Institute, has joined his dad in the business, Robinowich still goes to work every day, but no longer puts in 80 hours a week.
Many people thought he would retire.
“I’d much rather be here meeting people than sitting home with my wife (Charlene) all day,” said Robinowich, who’s nearing age 60. “I can’t think of any other place I’d rather be every day.”
His son’s presence in the shop does allow Robinowich and his wife to take a two-week vacation together every year, and a guy’s getaway with some long-time Bluffton buddies in September.
Robinowich’s reluctance to retire must be a family trait. His father, Morris, spent one year in retirement after selling the Planters Mercantile building in Old Town nearly a decade after he bought it in 1962.
Back to work he went. He rented space along May River Road, sold tackle and bait and changed oil using the store’s one rack, while his wife, Hilda, sold greeting cards and lotions and assorted other goodies. It was called Morris’ Variety Shop at first.
Meanwhile, Robinowich, who moved to Bluffton in 1962 with his family when he was 3, moved to Charlotte out of high school in 1977 and roamed the southeast as a children’s photographer.
“In 1985, I was tired of traveling and was visiting my parents,” Robinowich said. “I said, ‘Daddy, I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I’m ready to get off the road.’ The next morning, he said, ‘If you’re interested, take over my business and decide what you want to do with it. I’m ready to retire.”
Robinowich decided to move back to his hometown Bluffton and join his father in the auto business, despite having no experience. He bought out his father in 1987, purchased Daley’s Garage next door three years later and combined the two structures.
“I knew nothing about autos, and neither did my father,” he said. “We were both owners.”
For five years, Robinowich was a man on a mission, and two of his father’s long-time mechanics stayed on to help.
“I opened and closed every day,” he said. “I was the wrecker driver on call 24/7. We couldn’t go out to eat for five years until I hired a driver.”
Now Morris Auto is a full-line garage with state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment and a staff of 12. He credits hard work, integrity, honesty and customer service for his company’s success through the years.
His beloved mother died in 1987, and his dad did indeed retire after selling the garage to his son that same year. He grew extremely close to his dad, and the two were emotionally and physically inseparable.
“My father, who was the best dad in the world, became my dad and my best friend,” Robinowich said. “If my wife and I were invited to a party or a wedding – anything, it was Jeffrey, Charlene and Morris.”
Morris died in 1995 at age 77.
“Everybody in town loved my daddy,” he said. “All the locals called my father Mr. Morris and my mother Miss Morris. Half of Bluffton thought that was our last name.”
Lowcountry resident Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.