Given the choice, collision repair shop owner Richard “Rick” Impallaria would much rather eat at a Mom-and-Pop restaurant rather than at one of those cookie-cutter national chains. As choosy as he is about where he eats, he’s not at all choosy about what he drives — so long as it’s paid for.
Impallaria was your typical, everyday kind of guy — that is, until he was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates.
Now his mail includes “The Honorable” before his name, and he intends to live up to the title by fighting for the rights of Maryland body shop owners.
Politics, however, were never part of Impallaria’s lifelong goals. In fact, he was content with his choice of profession in the collision repair industry, having started Ricky’s Body Shop at the age of 18 and buying his own building three years ago to start My Body Shop in Middle River, Md.
But when Maryland Senate Bill 509 was passed during the 2000 legislative session, Impallaria stepped up to the plate to help make sure it didn’t become law.
“It was intended to give Baltimore County authority to condemn private property, including waterfront on Middle River (where my business is located) for resale to developers,” he says. “I became involved in fighting it at a hearing, where I heard two of my elderly neighbors pleading with county government officials not to be mistreated in their dealings with us. This angered me that senior citizens, who have spent their lives working for their families and communities, should at this time of their lives have to worry about losing their homes just so developers could get cheap real estate.”
The defeat of S.B. 509 on the November 2000 ballot became the start of what has become Impallaria’s political career. He decided in July 2002 to run for a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates — and won one of three seats in the 7th legislative district.
One of the first things on his political agenda? Addressing the problem of insurers “steering” customers to “pro shops.” And that’s just the beginning.
BSB: Why did you decide to run for the Maryland House of Delegates?
Impallaria: “Maryland government has turned its back on small business; instead, it kowtows to what I call corporatism. Chain stores from across the country are welcomed into our community. The laws that have been applied to the little guy have held us back from growing our business and profitability. Laws and regulations are waived overnight for these chains. It’s time we leveled the playing field. I ran to fight for the little guy.”
BSB: Have you always been involved in politics?
Impallaria: “Yes and no. Yes, I have always voted from the time I was 18 and have been a long-time radio talk show junkie. No, it was never a lifetime dream to run for political office. I was forced to get involved in politics when I saw how my neighbors were being treated by local government. I decided to run only in July of 2002.”
BSB: Why did you go into the collision repair field? How long have you owned My Body Shop?
Impallaria: “I’ve always liked to work with my hands, starting with bikes. I went to work for my uncle at A & R Auto at age 14. I always wanted to be my own boss, so at 18, I started Ricky’s Body Shop. Then three years ago, I bought my own building and put rent behind me. That’s when I picked ‘My Body Shop’ as the new name.”
BSB: You were involved in the defeat of a Maryland Senate Bill that would have condemned private property, including waterfront on Middle River — where your business is located — for resale to developers. How’d you help to make the defeat happen?
Impallaria: “A number of business and home owners banded together to fight this injustice. Our organization eventually became the Essex-Middle River Community in Action as we gathered signatures on a petition to bring this bill to referendum in the November 2000 election.
“During the election, our activities were under the campaign committee Citizens for Property Rights. Concerned citizens from around Baltimore County helped in all aspects of our efforts. We had our concerns aired on syndicated talk radio, and we even got a few out-of-state donations.
“All our hard work was successful, and S.B. 509 was defeated 70 to 30 percent. If any of your readers helped us in any way, let me thank you again for that help. It was invaluable. In fact, that is one of the things I remember best from that whole episode — how a lot of little people, doing what they could, be it a little or a lot, all worked together for one goal.”
BSB: What kind of legislation do you plan to introduce specific to body shops?
Impallaria: (A) Insurance companies have been steering work to so-called ‘pro shops,’ as if to say that all other shops are less than qualified. Pro shops in Maryland border on the edge of breaking the law. My legislation would require insurance companies to report all pro shops that they deal with, their contractual agreements with them and what their criteria are for pro shops. This information would be available to shops and the public through the state insurance commissioner, giving shops the right to compete fairly with pro shops and challenging if the pro shop program is legal.
(B) Raise the minimum amount paid to a claimant for a totaled car to $2,100. This will help to protect the elderly, and low-income persons and students, who are victims first in the accident and then in a situation where they receive too little money to put them back on the road. This would cut down on lawsuits from people trying to make up the difference through lawyer and court action.”
BSB: How has your life changed since you’ve been elected? Are you still running your body shop?
Impallaria: “I’m still the same, but my schedule is backed up and I’m always on the go. The big shock is, my mail is now addressed to ‘The Honorable Richard Impallaria.’ How I act reflects on the 33,000 people I represent. I’ll slow my business for the next four months to give me the time I need to learn this new responsibility.”
BSB: When your schedule isn’t so full, what do you like to do in your spare time?
Impallaria: “I spend time with my wife, Sharon; daughters Carolyn, 21, and Christina, 9; and sons Matt, 20, and Ricky, 7. I hunt, fish and boat and belong to the Knights of Columbus, many Republican clubs and community groups.”
BSB: What do you hope to accomplish as a delegate?
Impallaria: “Only time will tell.”
BSB: What advice would you give shop owners who have insurer-related concerns?Impallaria: “Stop fighting one job at a time. Get organized and work with all your competitors. One-on-one you have no power with the insurance companies, but as a group we can build a strong foundation for our industry.”
BSB: Who inspires you and why?
Impallaria: “Christ, for the gifts he gives us every day. Our forefathers, whose faith in God helped form this country and the freedoms we have. Those who have given their lives to preserve that freedom. My grandfather, who was self-employed all his life. My father, who always put family first. My uncle, who taught me this trade and never doubted me — and never made it easy on me.”
Writer Debbie Briggs is the former managing editor of BodyShop Business.