By Rod Lee
At the age of forty-eight, Ray Belsito Jr. has seen enough cars and what can happen to them condition-wise not to be surprised when they show up at Arnie’s Auto Body in need of repair.
Still, he must have been just a little shocked last Wednesday when a young man drove his pretty red Camaro to the top of the hill on Center Depot Road in Charlton on which Mr. Belsito’s shop sits, parked, and pointed out damage the vehicle had suffered. Scratched paint everywhere; on the roof of the car; on the sides; all around.
“Canopy collapsed on it,” Mr. Belsito said after conversing for several minutes with the man. “He’s hoping insurance will cover the cost of fixing it.”
Mr. Belsito, his wife April and his technicians—“four on the floor” as he puts it—operate out of a main structure and a companion building to one side. The business consists of a total of approximately 5,000 square feet and ten bays, he said. A state-of-the-art frame machine (ensuring that vehicles are returned to their owners “to factory specifications”), “genuine Sikkens paint with a color-match camera”) and guaranteed work (ASE, or automotive service excellence and I-Car, for welding, paint and insurance claims-certified) are staples.
The second-floor office, which overlooks a work area, seems to fit the profile of what one would expect to encounter at an active business with customers coming and going: LED shop-light boxes, automotive refinishing tape boxes, a water cooler, desks and artifacts accumulated from years of servicing an appreciative public.
Mr. Belsito, who has jet-black hair and an engaging and personable demeanor, acquired Arnie’s about five years ago from the previous owner, Arnie Burlingame. But he is not new to the industry. Automotive and entrepreneurship runs in the family, going back to his great grandfather Gaetano Dicicco.
In describing how he came to take over Arnie’s, which services Charlton, Spencer, Sturbridge, Southbridge, Oxford, Dudley, Webster and Auburn, he said “I have a varied background. My dad had a shop in Webster from the 1960’s, doing auto restoration—classic cars. I worked with him, repairing wrecks. I had my own shop on Franklin St. in Worcester for eight years. I was with Liberty Mutual for ten years as a regional manager, had ninety appraisers working for me. I taught school for two years, auto body, at Minuteman in Lexington, until they closed down the program. I worked for a short time as a distribution sales manager for a paint manufacturer.
“I have my hands in everything.”
After thirteen years “of corporate America, I decided I wanted to be self-employed,” he said. “Actually, I have been more self-employed than not.”
Mr. Belsito says “I was just keeping my eye out” when Arnie’s became available. “I would come in as a paint rep or as an appraiser. I knew of Arnie, honest guy, good reputation, never anything ʽout of the box.’”
Mr. Belsito has maintained this approach and says “it’s worked out great. Sales are up, very stable, we never miss a beat. It’s one of those fields,” too, he noted, “that’s almost recession-proof.”
Mr. Belsito’s great grandfather Gaetano Dicicco ran a sand and gravel business in Worcester in the early 1900s and was the first person in the city to own a motorized dump truck. His grandfather Angelo Belsito started Belsito Auto in Worcester in 1947, pumping gas, servicing vehicles and doing body work (he was one of the first to add this component). His dad, Ray Sr., worked at Belsito Auto before starting his own shop in 1962. Ray Sr. was the first person on the East Coast to make auto restoration an exclusive business.
A 1957 Cadillac El Dorado Beretz and a 1912 National that Arnie’s is presently working on—“customer cars,” Mr. Belsito said—are a link to the past, for him.
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.