Rivers Garage and Body Shop, a Portage County staple, closes after half a century in business

Image of Rivers Garage and Body Shop, a stone front building with three white garage doors
Photo courtesy of Rivers Garage and Body Shop

After more than 50 years of serving Portage County, Rivers Garage and Body Shop has closed permanently. 

Lifelong Ravenna residents Halley Rivers Jones and his wife Opal owned and operated the shop for many years until they retired. 

The couple’s granddaughter, Nancy Jones, said even up to the point of their retirement, they preferred to run the business the same way it ran in the ‘60s, keeping all the operations old school. 

“[My grandmother] did all the dispatching,” she said. “She worked 24/7. They would leave to go to North Carolina for vacation and one of us had to step in and do the dispatching at night because she refused to get an answering service.”

After Opal and Rivers died in 2016 and 2019, respectively, their son Gary Jones took over the family business. Gary ran the business and worked to keep it afloat for a number of years until he died in February of 2021 because of complications from Covid-19. 

Combining financial strain with the loss of the business’s three key players, Jones decided to shut it down for good. 

Jones said her grandparents were open-hearted and generous people who never hesitated to help out their employees or the community. They worked around the clock to take care of their customers. When Jones posted in a local Facebook group to announce that Rivers is closing, over 200 people shared sentiments and memories of the business. 

“In the blizzard of ‘78/’79, Rivers followed the propane trucks to pull them out of driveways so people didn’t run out of heat,” wrote one of the commenters, Terri Siefer. “Great people [and] family.”

For several years, Rivers was a sponsor of the Ravenna Balloon-a-Fair, where they provided trucks for the parades and stages for performers. Mike Jones, Gary’s son who also helped with the family business, said Rivers also helped with the launch of the Earthwind, a hot air balloon slated to fly around the world, and provided towing services for the Ravenna City Police Department, Portage County Sheriff’s Office and the State Highway Patrol for many years. Mike also recalls his grandmother, Opal, raising money to donate each year to JDRF, a juvenile diabetes organization. 

Mike started working at the shop when he was in high school, where his grandfather taught him how to do body work on cars and operate the tow trucks and said the business is full of memories for him. 

Mike’s mom owns the business now and is working to sell the property. Nancy said there have been three potential buyers interested in the location. Mike’s grandparents’ house is also on the property, and he said he would hate to see it torn down. The property is set up for a garage and body shop, and Mike said he’d love to see someone use the space to operate a new business.

“It’d be strange driving by and not seeing it there anymore,” he said. 

But his main hope is that the property gets taken over and leaves enough money to take care of his mother.  

“My mother did payroll and basic accounting there for years and years, but that’s really all she’s done since she was right out of high school,” he said. “With the business closed and my father passing away from Covid earlier this year, whatever happens with that, it’s pretty much going to be her income.”

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Maria McGinnis is a contributing writer for The Portager.

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