“I felt like Propel was in it for us, the staff was a safe place to take questions – the staff wanted to help us succeed and that is a good feeling.” – Cathy Heying, founder and executive director of the Lift Garage
Auto repair is the vehicle for repairing lives at The Lift Garage on Lake Street in Minneapolis. Beyond this clever pun on their website, the Lift Garage conducts their work with thoughtfulness, expertise, kindness, and justice in mind. Their mission is to offer people a vehicle out of poverty by:
- Providing low-cost quality car repair;
- Connecting with community partners to strengthen the support network; and
- Linking customers to needed resources.
“I always say we are social workers, grief counselors, and resource connectors who fix cars on the side,” said Cathy Heying, founder and executive director of the Lift Garage.
This sentiment makes sense given Heying was a social worker when she got the idea for the garage in 2006.
“I was working with folks experiencing homelessness and kept encountering people who were trying to hold the pieces of their lives together,” she said. “Often a car repair was a make or break thing.”
After completing a two-year degree in auto technology, Heying and a volunteer mechanic worked one day a week out of one repair bay to complete repairs starting in April 2013. The demand quickly grew, and with support from board members, donors, and volunteers, the garage grew.
Today, from their five-bay garage on Lake Street, the staff of 12 provide car repairs for any Minnesotan who meets the 150% Federal Poverty Guideline, and charge only $15 per hour plus the cost of parts at no mark-up. Over the past eight years, they have served over 1,400 customers and completed 3,000 repairs.
“When we started the garage, I would’ve said that our job is to keep people employed,” Heying said.
But, what can’t be measured in numbers, or the dollars being kept in people’s pockets by the low-cost repairs, is the impact the garage has on the community.
“I can tell you how important it is that someone can get to work, but what we can’t measure as easily is how important it is to have a reliable car to visit a dying, elderly parent, or to be able to show up to your son’s basketball game,” Heying said.
Investing in maintaining relationships and growing trust is some of the most important work the garage does.
A place for the community
In 2020, The Lift Garage purchased the space they had been leasing for a few years and, with a loan from Propel, expanded their administrative office space and waiting area. They also added a conference room where staff and board members can meet.
“We are centrally located in the Twin Cities and that’s important to our business,” Heying said. About 60 percent of their customers come from Minneapolis and Saint Paul while the rest come from places as far as Annandale for services.
And while there might not have been significance to the exact location of their shop when they opened, “there is now,” Heying said.
In the last year, the business remained opened as an essential service during the pandemic and was one of the only buildings at the intersection of Lake Street and Minnehaha that remained after the uprising following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020.
“After the uprisings, I was even more committed to putting down roots on Lake Street,” Heying said. “I live and work in this neighborhood. I want to be a presence on Lake Street that is hospitable, a place that is willing to work together toward solving community issues with our neighbors and customers. Knowing that we are going to be here, literally right here, provides us with different opportunities to engage.”
Heying and the staff of the garage understand the outpouring of anger and grief, and hope with their expansion and continued work in the community, they can be a place of safety, hope, and justice.
A spirit of partnership
Working with Propel’s capital access team to secure a loan allowed the Lift Garage to expand their office space in 2020, but also allowed for some unexpected surprises.
“I felt like Propel was in it for us, the staff was a safe place to take questions,” Heying said. “The staff wanted to help us succeed and that is a good feeling.”
The expansion of the office space has helped the staff navigate the pandemic – moving the three-person administrative staff into their own offices – and dream about what could be possible in the future.
“We value hospitality here, and it has been hard to tell people they can’t wait in our waiting area during the pandemic,” Heying said.
The garage is excited to eventually welcome back their customers to the waiting area where the staff offers easily prepared meals not only for customers, but for folks who are experiencing homelessness in the surrounding community when they stop by.
As the expansion unfolded, Heying learned that due to fire code, one wall couldn’t have windows.
“Our east wall is a huge blank canvas now,” Heying said.
In the coming months, they will work with another local nonprofit, Juxtaposition Arts, to create a mural informed by community input.
“We work with a lot of different people here, we have hard conversations, and help people in crisis; I want the garage to be a place people can feel safe and dignified in,” Heying said.
Support the Lift Garage
The best way to support The Lift Garage is to visit www.theliftgarage.org/donate. Donations make it possible for the garage to repair cars at 33 percent of a market rate repair.