Last month, one of the longest tenured local businesses celebrated its 44th year of operation. Dutchess Auto Body and Service Center has been serving the Pawling since 1974, and proudly marked another anniversary on September 23. In addition, owner John Ammaturo and his family have become ingrained in the Pawling community over the past four decades.
The story of Dutchess Auto began with John Ammaturo’s father, who owned an automotive repair shop in the Bronx dating back to the 1930s. Ammaturo and his older brother worked in their father’s shop. The family relocated to Mahopac in 1973. “Looking through the Pennysaver, I found this location, and we pursued it,” explains Ammaturo. “I thought originally my father would take over the operation, but it wasn’t big enough. So I wound up taking it on by myself.” When the sale was finalized, he was a business owner at age 21. The shop opened for business at 32-26 East Main Street on September 23, 1974.
Through the years, Dutchess Auto has become a family affair. His son John has worked at the shop for 10 years, and his wife of 42 years, Fran, also works in the office. “We work very well together,” explains Ammaturo. “Having my wife here is awesome. We have great family input, and it just works. It gives me energy, especially knowing that the business will be in good hands in the future with John.” In addition, Dutchess Auto has eight employees, several of whom have many years with the establishment. “This shop is like a small family,” adds Ammaturo. “You treat others the way you want to be treated, and they stick with you.”
Through the years, Dutchess Auto became established in the region. The shop’s story, however, was not without hardship. In 1987, calamity struck when a serious fire ripped through the building. The blaze was caused by errant sparks from a welder that caught fire and destroyed a vehicle being serviced. Thankfully no one was injured, but the building sustained considerable damage. “After the fire, the community came out and supported me,” recalls Ammaturo. “It was unbelievable. In a week’s time, I had fifty-five different people who came out to help me. They helped me rip everything apart, clean up, and restore the place. I wasn’t completely rebuilt yet – but a week earlier, I had been completely devastated. That was amazing what people did in the community. I never forgot that.”
Following the outpouring of support that Dutchess Auto received after the fire, John Ammaturo decided to give back to the town that had so generously helped him. “That’s when I joined the Pawling Rotary Club, and I’ve been involved ever since. It’s been my way of giving back to the community who has supported me for all these years.” For the past seven years, Ammaturo has served as the advisor for the Rotary’s Interact Club. “Being the advisor for Interact is one of my most rewarding roles,” he says. “There’s a lot going on with the kids who pass through. They do well academically, they have good family values, and they respect one another. They feel good about helping people, and they have a sense of providing for the community.” In addition to his work with the Rotary Club, John Ammaturo has also been a member of the Westchester Rockland Putnam Auto Body Association for more than thirty years.
Over time, John Ammaturo has watched Pawling change and grow. He is encouraged by the status of local commerce. “When I first got here in the mid-70s, I knew this place had a lot of offer,” he says. “There were some downturns, but the Chamber of Commerce did an awesome job to help strengthen the merchant community.” Ammaturo is also inspired by the many new construction projects happening in and around the village: “I’m excited; it will be great to have more businesses. And the governing body here has done a great job of managing the growth we’ve had.”
With 44 years behind him, John Ammaturo has no plans to leave Dutchess Auto any time soon. “I don't want to retire,” he concludes. “I would miss the staff, the community, and the customers. I’m going to stay as long as I can. It’s just been such an awesome experience for me. This community has been so supportive of me and my family for all these years.”