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In the wee hours of Thanksgiving eve and Thanksgiving night, vandals slashed the inflatable pilgrims and Indians in front of Cloot’s Auto Body in Westfield, Mass.
For the last few years, Cloot’s Auto Body in Westfield, Mass., has been warming the hearts of passing motorists with the shop’s seasonal displays.
The centerpiece is a 1954 GMC pickup truck parked in front of the shop. Shop owner Gary Cloutier and his wife surround the old truck with inflatables and other decorations for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and other occasions.
“It’s a lot of work, but we have fun doing it,” Cloutier told BodyShop Business.
The positive response from the community has inspired them to make the displays bigger and more elaborate. For Valentine’s Day, Cloutier said he made a 10-foot-long rose using a carpeting tube and the shipping material for a bumper cover. He then created a box of chocolates from a container that was used to ship a fender.
“You have to do everything on a large scale, because you need to convey the message in the blink of an eye,” Cloutier said. “People are only driving by for two or three seconds, so they have to be able to see it.”
Sadly, though, their plans for a Christmas display are on hold at the moment.
In the wee hours of Thanksgiving eve and Thanksgiving night, vandals slashed the inflatable pilgrims and Indians that were positioned around the truck. This comes after vandals trashed the Cloutiers’ Halloween displays two years in a row.
“My wife was crying,” Cloutier said of their reaction when they discovered the most recent damage. “She was like, ‘I’m not doing this anymore. I’ve had it.’”
Surveillance cameras captured the Thanksgiving attacks, but the footage is grainy and police haven’t been able to identify the culprits yet. The Cloutiers posted the videos on the shop’s Facebook page in hopes of solving the caper.
The Cloutiers can’t fathom why anyone would destroy something that has brought so much joy to the community. If it was a disgruntled customer, maybe they could understand. But the video seems to indicate that the perpetrators are juveniles.
“When I was a kid, we threw snowballs and maybe we threw some rotten tomatoes at a car,” Cloutier said. “I’m not even condoning that behavior. I look back and say, ‘Yeah, you know what, you were an ***hole.’ But I never destroyed stuff on people’s property. We might go up and ring your doorbell and then run away – that was about the extent of it. Nowadays these kids think they can do whatever they want.”
If there’s any silver lining to the ordeal, it’s the outpouring of support from the community. “I love your decorations and how you do it for every occasion,” one woman says on the shop’s Facebook page. “It always makes me smile every time I go by,” another Facebook commenter says. Other commenters say they go out of their way to drive by the shop just to see the displays.
Earlier this week, a law enforcement officer who is a customer came to the shop and handed Cloutier a $100 bill to help defray the cost of the damages. Cloutier told him he didn’t want to take the money, but the man insisted. That same day, another man – “a total stranger” – stopped by and donated $10.
Cloutier said he didn’t feel right taking the money, and he didn’t want people to think the shop was using the vandalism incident as a “money grab.” Still, it’s “proof that there are more good people in this world than there are bad,” the Cloutiers say on the shop’s Facebook page.
About the Truck …
Cloutier started in the auto body business in 1984 as a one-man operation in a barn. He oversaw the construction of his current facility in 1987, and the shop has been there ever since.
The vintage truck might look like it’s been with the shop since Day 1, but Cloutier said he’s only owned it for about five years. He got the idea from a picture on his cousin’s Facebook page that showed an old truck with flowers planted in the truck bed. Cloutier thought it would be a good way to market the shop.
Cloutier scoured the internet until he found the 1954 GMC in Bridgeport, Conn., about and an hour and a half away, for $500. When Cloutier went to get the truck, he didn’t have the heart to tell the seller that he planned to turn it into “a flower pot.”
“He probably wouldn’t have sold it to me,” Cloutier added.
When Cloutier got there, the truck was in pieces scattered throughout the seller’s motorcycle shop, but it was exactly what he wanted. So Cloutier loaded the parts onto his trailer, lashed them down and brought them back to his auto body shop. It took Cloutier about a week and a half to reassemble it, he said.
“It wasn’t hard to put it back together,” Cloutier said. “Back then cars were so crude. I equate it with a jigsaw puzzle: You could have a 3,000-piece jigsaw puzzle or a 10-piece jigsaw puzzle for a kid. This was like a 10-piece jigsaw puzzle for me.”
At first, the pickup truck – which sports the shop’s logo on the doors – served as a glorified flowerpot. But soon the Cloutiers figured “we can do more with this.”
“It was the best marketing idea that I have ever come up with,” Cloutier told BodyShop Business. “And it does exactly what I wanted it to do – which is keep people focused on my shop. And it puts a smile on someone’s face, which is why we always try to do something cheery with it. And then you have this happen.”