NEWBURYPORT – Storey Avenue has changed a lot since Ken Roberts opened the iconic Volvo repair shop Ken’s Haus 40 years ago. But one thing that hasn’t changed since then are his loyal customers.
Now, happily retired and learning to play guitar, the 69-year-old Gilford, New Hampshire, resident spent a few minutes last week reflecting on his career as arguably the city’s most colorful and recognizable auto mechanic.
“People treated me wonderfully,” Roberts said by phone as he drove through Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
If it wasn’t for his customers, Roberts added, he probably would not have been able to stay in business for so long.
Roberts sold Ken’s Haus in 2017 and in his own words, deemed himself “Cabana Boy Ken” at a Lake Winnipesaukee beach resort. Ken’s Haus remains open.
When Roberts opened the business in 1980, fixing Volvos was much simpler. It was well before computers were used to trigger car mechanisms and components. It was also when there were more redundancies built in so cars did not just conk out when something went wrong.
“I repaired my cars without computers, but starting in 2015, anything that came through the door needed a software package,” he said. “Programming is a big part of repairing now. If you’re not a computer-generated person or if you’re not computer savvy, you’re not going to make it.”
Roberts said he first started working on Volvos as a teenager in 1967 when he bought a used one for $134 and quickly fell in love with the Swedish auto.
“I like the cars because of their durability, their service and how they handle,” Roberts said. “Summer and winter, they handle the same all the time.”
Asked what his favorite Volvo of all time is, Roberts picked a model known more for its reliability than its pizzazz: the 1993 240 station wagon.
“The last year for them, one of the most dependable vehicles,” he said.
In terms of Storey Avenue, when he opened Ken’s Haus, it was a simple, two-lane road — one on each side. There was a Friendly’s restaurant across the street.
“And behind that there was woods,” Roberts recalled.
But as Newburyport grew, so did traffic. It got so congested that Storey Avenue was widened. That led to more businesses coming to the area as well as more traffic accidents, especially at the Low Street intersection, he said.
Roberts said if anyone were to open a car repair shop today, he’d suggest trying someplace else.
“I don’t think it’s the proper place for an automotive repair shop,” Roberts said. “It should be treated as the entrance to the city.” Roberts said.
Staff writer Dave Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @drogers41008.