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@Work: Caravan Auto

March 17, 2005 – When it comes to keeping your St. John vehicle on the road, Caravan Auto Service fills the bill. The island's only vehicle parts store sells just about anything you need for making vehicle repairs.
"We've become an essential part of the community. And it's fun to be able to interact with the people in the community on a daily basis," Sharon Ehle said.
Sharon Ehle, 58, and her husband, Doug, 57, own the busy store located at the bottom of Jacob's Ladder on Route 104.
The store also sells to mechanics, resorts, the V.I. National Park, car rental agencies, and customers in St. Thomas and the British Virgin Islands.
The Ehles started out by selling vehicle parts and making repairs out of their Ajax Peak home back in the early 1990s. They moved the operation to the Skinny Legs Bar and Restaurant complex, but soon realized that Coral Bay, especially more than a decade ago, wasn't the hub of island commerce. In 1993, they took over an existing auto parts store in Enighed, and in 2000 moved to their present location at the foot of Jacob's Ladder on Route 104.
In 2004, they doubled Caravan Auto's square-footage by putting up a building next to their store.
"It's for storage. It allows us to keep better inventory," Sharon Ehle said.
She said that before the new building went up, they had goods stored in trailers next to the store and at other locations around St. John. Now, they can keep large items like windshields and tires nearby.
While they've solved the storage problem for the time being, shipping items in to St. John continues to pose challenges. Sharon Ehle said that getting their regular weekly delivery isn't usually a problem, but special orders can be delayed thanks to problems somewhere in the U.S. Postal Service system. This means that it takes a while to get items to St. John.
"Express mail used to be one day. Now it can take up to four," Sharon Ehle said.
She said customers complain, but the delivery problem is out of their hands.
Doug Ehle said that although St. John has grown tremendously in the last decade, the infrastructure, including shipping, is not keeping pace.
He said he also faces challenges in trying to find skilled employees. He said he's currently talking to a man in the states who saw an ad for help he placed in the local media. Doug Ehle said the man is qualified for the job, but finding housing in St. John's expensive and scarce housing market is a problem.
As if owning a small business wasn't stressful enough, the Ehles are also completing construction on their house.
Sharon Ehle said the workers arrive at 7 a.m., and hammer away all day long.
She said the house will join another house on their property as a vacation villa. The Ehles then plan to move back into a plywood cabin they built when they first moved to St. John in 1989.
Sharon Ehle said the getting the house completed consumes all their spare time, but they did find time last year ago to drive their 1965 427 Shelby Cobra around the states raising money for Special Olympics through CarQuest, the brand name on many of the parts stocked at Caravan Auto.
"We're very focused on the house, but when it's done we'll go back to enjoying the Caribbean," Doug Ehle said.
Caravan Auto is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.

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