This month marks 40 years since well-known Wotton-under-Edge businessman Graham Peake bought Bear Street Garage, though he was employed there before that. It’s a family business success story with Graham’s wife Chris involved in the business from the start and now run by the second generation of the family, Gary and Mandy.
“I started my working life at the age of 15 at Allen and Elliott’s garage in Slimbridge – that’s where I grew up,” Graham explained. From there he took a job at a firm building lorry bodies before moving to Bear Street Garage.
“I’d started selling bits and pieces of cars from our home in Slimbridge, much to my mother’s disgust, and I saw an advert for a trainee car salesman so I got the job and started work at Bear Street Garage on April 2nd, 1972, when I was 22. In those days it was a Morris dealership run by Frank and Wilf James.”
The garage changed hands during the 1970s and was owned by Warners, a company that also owned garages in Tewkesbury and a coach business. Bear Street became a Ford dealership in January 1973 and retains an association with the iconic brand to this day.
“I worked for Mike Warner from October 1972 until October 1981 when he told me he wanted to sell it because they’d bought a garage in Bristol,” said Graham, “so we bought Bear Street Garage on 1st March 1982.
“There have been some major changes during our time of ownership. In 1992 we knocked down the existing garage to build what we’ve got today and in 2002 we added the showroom. We’ve recently put in a new car wash – it’s been really good and people are raving over it.”
As a motorsport and car enthusiast, what cars from the past 40 years stand out for Graham? “The 2.8 Injection Ford Capri – what a fabulous car. I also had a new Ford RS Cosworth in 1986 – the one with the big wing, and when I was 40 I bought a new Sierra Cosworth in Magenta with black leather interior. I’ve always like performance cars.”
Graham and Chris have taken a step back from the day-to-day running of the business and it’s in the capable hands of their son and daughter Gary Peake and Mandy Dempsey. “Gary and Mandy have pushed things on further than I would have,” said Graham. “They’ve installed a Costa Coffee machine, a cashpoint, started selling alcohol – all things I was averse to doing – but it’s been the making of it.”
What’s been the highlight of Graham’s five decades at Bear Street? “The highlight has been Mandy and Gary coming into the business because they will continue it for the town.”
Bear Street Garage has consistently been highly rated in anonymous surveys run by Shell. One response praised the ‘local independently-owned business with longstanding commitment the town, employing helpful, friendly and efficient staff providing car washing, servicing and fuel is to be used and cherished.’
“We’ve always tried to give a decent facility to the town – we’ve invested in new technology and new equipment, including the latest computer and diagnostic tools in the workshop. The technology is quite colossal.
“Since I bought the business in 1982 I’ve reinvested about £1.25 million into the site.”
And what of the future? With five grandchildren Graham thinks there could even be a third generation of the Peake family running Bear Street Garage.