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Clem's Garage wins statewide business award

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Dennis Clem stands in the repair bay of Clem’s Garage in Stephens City while mechanics, Steve Franklin and John Fanelli, work on vehicles Tuesday. The operation, opened by Clem’s father, Richard, in 1945, recently received the award for Virginia family-owned business by the Small Business Administration. — Alex Bridges/Daily

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Dennis Clem, left, speaks with John Fanelli, a mechanic, in the repair bay of Clem’s Garage in Stephens City on Tuesday. — Alex Bridges/Daily

The family owned business has been located in Stephens City for 67 years

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

Clem's Garage takes the term family owned business literally.

Currently, three generations of Clems work at the vehicle repair shop on Main Street in Stephens City. That family connection and its longevity helped Clem's Garage earn a statewide award from the U.S. Small Business Administration's Virginia District in Richmond. The SBA announced recently that Clem's won the Virginia Family Owned Business of the Year Award.

"I'm tickled," said Dennis Clem, whose father, Richard Clem, started the garage in town 67 years ago.

"We are hard-working family anyhow," Dennis Clem said.

The business received the award for more than just carrying the family name.

"It's dedication, for one thing. The family's dedicated, and the personal service anyhow," said Dennis Clem. "It's a little bit more in how it's a family owned and we being here for a long time anyhow and we know a lot of the customers."

SBA District Director Jayne Armstrong explained the agency looked at sales and employee growth, but the business also must have been passed to a second generation to qualify as family owned. A business' longevity and its ability to overcome obstacles also can play into the judging.

"To think, just going from one generation to the next, but think about all the economic cycles that happened during that time period," Armstrong said. "Here's a business that has grown during the recent economic recession. I mean, it's unheard of, really holding their own, and when a lot of businesses were dropping in sales dramatically.

"I just really credited him, when you walk in there and you really get the sense of this is a family owned business and it's the type of business that you really want to get behind and support because of that, because of the enthusiasm you see right away," Armstrong added.

Clem lauded his crew and credited them for helping the business win the award.

"They're the ones that helped us win that there, so I wanted them to sign it and give them recognition," Clem said about the employee-signed banner about the award now on display in their showroom.

Steve Franklin joined the crew after high school in 1985.

"They're the best people in the world to work for," Franklin said.

John Fanelli started working at the garage in August.

"It's [the] best move I could have made," Fanelli said.

Clem credited his brothers and sisters who worked at the business over the years for Clem's winning the award.

"They're the ones who carried the ball over the goal line," Clem said.

Clem's father opened the garage in 1945 on Mulberry Street in a building with two work bays. Clem, born three years later, eventually joined his brothers and sisters who worked with their father in the garage. His brothers, Ralph and Lynn, and sisters, Doris Brown and Lorraine Orndorff, worked at the garage for years but since have retired. Their brother, Larry, died in a work-related mishap at the garage years ago, according to Clem.

Clem said he starting working in the garage pushing a broom when he was "just real small." He said the first thing he did when he got out of high school was to get his state inspection license so that he could start doing vehicle inspections.

Now Clem continues to work at the garage with his sons Billy and Craig as well as a daughter-in-law and five grandchildren. Clem said he suspected the abundance of family involvement likely helped the business win the award. The garage employs a total of 22 people including the Clem family members. With the garage business growing and lasting through different economic climates, the family chose not to expand the operation to other locations.

"It worked well enough for us and we were busy enough that we could keep everybody here without spreading everybody out," Clem said.

The garage keeps family close. Clem built his home a few hundred feet behind the building, next to where one brother lived. Billy Clem lives in a house on the other side of the business while Craig Clem has his home behind his father. Dennis Clem said he hopes to see his grandchildren put their homes on the property, which extends to Interstate 81. He noted this would keep family who already work at the garage closer to the business in case they need to answer the call for a tow truck or other emergencies.

At 63, Clem sees retirement in his future but said the business would keep running.

"I got a lot to do and believe my kids and grand kids are starting to carry the ball anyhow," Clem said, adding that he would "sort of slow up a little bit."


Lynn Clem is one of the greatest men I know and he is missed dearly at Clem's. I am glad he is retired and enjoying his time away from the garage. There are very few people like him. You knew everything was going to be alright when he was there taking care of your car. There are many words that come to mind when I think of Lynn Clem. He is honest, caring, respectful, concerned, hard working, and most of all when he gives you his word you can count on it. He has brought integrity to the Clem's name that will last a lifetime. Congratulations to the Clem's family for such an amazing accomplishment.

It's the only shop in the area that I'll call when I need some help with my vehicles.

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