Erie's Canfield Radiator to close its doors –

Paul Canfield was fresh out of the U.S. Marine Corps when he sought the help of an expert to fix his broken radiator.
Canfield, a World War II veteran who was wounded in Guam, was trying to save money. He removed the part himself and watched intently as the mechanic repaired the leaky radiator.
He was intrigued.
His oldest son, 71-year-old Nolan Canfield, recalls what he thinks was going through his father’s mind:  “I think I like that. I think I can do that.”
Paul Canfield went on to work for that mechanic.
A year later, he and his brother opened Canfield Auto on West 12th Street near Powell Avenue, servicing radiators, doing bodywork and selling used cars.
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It was the beginning of what would become Canfield Auto Radiator, a well-known Erie business that will mark the end of its 75-year run on Friday.
A lot has changed since that time. 
The growing popularity of automotive air conditioning in the 1980s found the business — located since the late 1960s at 15 E. 18th St. — busy fixing old air conditioning units and installing new ones.
The business, which focused in the early days on fixing radiators, changed gears as replacement radiators became available.
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There were other changes. Canfield radiator took its act on the road, selling radiators, often to mom-and-pop body shops into New York and Ohio and as far south as Interstate 80, Scott Canfield said.
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Danny Canfield said he’s worked on radiators for farm tractors, PennDOT trucks, EMTA buses and boats for the U.S. Coast Guard. For a time, starting in 2008, the shop found itself rebuilding and replacing massive radiators used to cool engines pumping water for the production of natural gas.
State inspections and other service work was added along the way to help offset a slowdown in radiator repair.
What hasn’t changed are the faces in the garage and behind the counter. Most of the remaining six-person staff, down from 20 in the busiest days, has been together for a long while.
In fact, brothers Nolan, 71, Scott, 68, and Dann, 65, were regulars in their dad’s old shop at Sixth and French streets.
“As little kids it would be a big deal,” Danny Canfield said. “We would run around down there on Saturday mornings, running into the alley across from the public library and making cardboard houses. We would run around the shop and get in everyone’s way.”
The brothers, who went to work at the radiator shop after leaving school, never really left the business. And they’re not the only ones.
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Service manager Rick Anderson, 65, has worked at the shop for the last 47 years. And Bob Lipsey, a technician and parts manager, has logged more than 30 years.
“I’ve known these guys since I was coherent,” said Anderson, whose father was a friend of Paul Canfield. “I just kind of fell into this niche of working on cars.”
Paul Canfield did more than launch the business; he left his sons with guiding principles that are part of their conversation decades later.
“Dad always taught us to treat customers with respect, doing the job right and treating people right, that was our formula.” Danny Canfield said.
The notion of treating people right is hard to define.
At Canfield, it might have meant the free loan of the old but reliable GM parked outside the building. And it might have had something to do with the way Rick Anderson explained what was wrong with your car and what it would cost to fix.
“People can sense right away that you have a genuine concern for their issue and their situation,” he said.
So what brings this 75-year-run to an end?
“Our industry as a whole has been on a gradual wind-down for years,” Nolan Canfield said. “Back in the ’90s, there were about 20 of us involved in the radiator shop and there were five or six radiator shops in Erie.”
The exact high-water mark for Canfield might have been in 1994 when he and his sons were featured on the cover of a national trade journal. They still have a copy.
They will be packing up those mementos and shipping back their unsold inventory to their supplier as they make plans to sell the building, home to the business since 1968, and the acre on which it sits.
There wasn’t a lot of serious thought given to selling the business itself.
Nolan Canfield said he and his brothers thought the challenges facing a new owner would be too great. Cars last longer. New radiators are easier to find.
The internet is one of the reasons this final day in business is coming now and not a few years later.
“It used to be the radiator shop was the only place to buy a radiator,” Danny Canfield said. “Now, there are like 300 places you can get them on the internet.”
But along with his brothers and co-workers, Danny Canfield doesn’t think that a business like Canfield will be easily replaced.
“We have been there to take care of people,” he said. “You can’t get that on the internet or on YouTube.”
Along with their service manager, the three Canfield brothers are all of retirement age.
But they still expect to see one another.
Anderson and the Canfields share a hunting camp in Warren County, where they have gone as a group for years to hunt, eat good food and tell stories.
“We enjoy one another’s company,” Nolan Canfield said.
But turning off the lights won’t be easy.
“It’s bittersweet,” Nolan Canfield said. “Our customers have become our friends over the years and we are proud of that.”
Contact Jim Martin at 814-870-1668 or Follow him on Twitter @ETNMartin.


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