Owner’s colorful past proves he doesn’t back away from challenges
At 58, Allen “Mugsy” Larson has reached an age when people often begin thinking about retirement.
He laughs beneath a face full of gray whiskers at that suggestion.
For Larson, these “golden years” are an ideal time to start a new business venture in Port Washington — Mugsy’s Auto Service at 107 S. Milwaukee St.
He said his shop, which is located one block south of Grand Avenue, is not affiliated with any auto maker or national service franchise.
“I am about as independent as they come,” Larson said.
He is decidedly old school, but includes a new Genesis Evo diagnostic computer among the equipment he brought in to the shop. There are also three hydraulic lifts, a tire machine, transmission jack and an older Sun diagnostic machine. Alignment equipment will soon be available.
Larson brings a work and personal history that you won’t find in any other garage.
He was a police officer in West Allis then became an EMT in Hawaii for five years. Larson also suffered a stroke that has denied him the use of his right hand and left him walking with a limp.
“I can still do a lot of the work on cars, and if there is something I can’t do, I’ll tell the mechanic working with me exactly what needs to be done,” he said.
“I can also listen to a motor and usually tell right away what is wrong with it. That comes from years of working on cars.”
Larson said he has been drawn to all things mechanical since he was 14.
He has an affinity for older cars, but doesn’t mind tackling the mechanical problems of vehicles of any age or make.
Larson said he has been working on cars out of his Port Washington home on Westport Drive for years, but thought he could do a better job if he had his own shop.
The space he found has been used for auto repairs since the 1920s, and most recently was used sporadically by a classic car collector.
“He moved out in July and I started getting the shop in shape in August, and had to go through the whole rigmarole getting approvals from the city. There were a lot of headaches, but it all worked out and I opened on Sept. 2,” Larson said.
He said Port officials weren’t initially keen on having an auto repair center at the location, but eventually they saw the benefit of providing the service to people who work in the business district.
“The location might not be very visible, but there aren’t any mechanics left in downtown. It will be convenient for people who work at places like Ansay Insurance and the county who want to drop off their cars in the morning and pick them up when they are ready to go home,” Larson said.
As a condition of the zoning variance needed for the business, he agreed that vehicles would not be stored outside.
Drawing customers to the new business hasn’t been a problem, especially because of Larson’s connections with the community.
He is the commander of the Port Washington American Legion Post, secretary of the local Leathernecks Club and vice president of the Great Lakes Sports Fishermen.
“I guess I know a lot of people, but I don’t put pressure on anyone to bring their car here. I just like helping people, and especially like helping people in need and the disabled because I am disabled,” he said.
Larson earned his nickname while working as a cop. He recalls the exact date, too — Oct. 31, 1981.
Larson, at the time a patrolman with the West Allis Police Department, was off duty when he tried to break up a domestic dispute in a local bar.
The instigator didn’t appreciate Larson interfering with a family matter and struck him in the head with a beer mug, leaving a gaping gash.
“All of the cops thought it was hilarious and started calling me Mugsy,” Larson said.
“I eventually left the police department because the job became a mix of police work and politics, and I didn’t want to be a politician.”
Larson said he is ready to settle in to the life of a neighborhood mechanic.
“This is definitely more than a hobby. With all the money I have sunk into this, I expect to be in business for at least the next 10 to 15 years,” he said.
Image information: ALLEN ‘‘MUGSY’’ LARSON has been a police officer and an EMT, but found his comfort zone working under the hood of cars. Larson recently opened Mugsy’s Auto Service in downtown Port Washington. Photo by Mark Jaeger