James Machinist took a lifelong love of cars and turned it into a thriving business on Railroad Avenue in Katonah. With his father, he opened the Katonah Car Collectors Garage—a "country club for car owners"—according to his website—in 2005 and now serves over 100 clients.
The Greenwich native—he attended Greenwich High School and Rye Country Day School—now lives in Manhattan but spends a few days a week at the self-storage center and collectors garage, which also offers washing, detailing, restoration and acquisition services to clients.
It's also a place for members to hang out and visit their cars; with displays of automotive memorabilia, comfortable couches and a slot car track for kids, it's much more than a garage. We sat down with Machinist to talk about his passion for all things automobile.
Patch: First of all—Machinist is your last name. Couldn't have planned that better for being in the car business!
Machinist: When my Dad's family arrived in the U.S. from Eastern Europe they were sewing machinists and and spoke little English. That's all they could say and that became their last name.
Patch: Have you always been interested in cars?
Machinist: I love cars. When I was going to Vassar, I worked summers at a car restoration shop—Vintage Racing Services in Stratford—and I'd travel around the country to work on vintage and collectible cars. I have some skills but I'm not the greatest of mechanics. And I sometimes race cars.
Patch: Did you study business or plan to own one?
Machinist: I was an economics major and when I graduated in 2005 and the economy was booming. I had job offers as an investment banking associate in the city, but I just did not want to do that. This has been much more fulfilling and I have a product I'm attached to.
Patch: And how did the business get started?
Machinist: When I was working in at Vintage Racing Services in Stratford, I'd see the same 50 guys with the same 50 cars. The biggest problem that client base had was where to put the the cars. Even with some of of the largest houses in Greenwich, the biggest possible garage you can have is 6 or 8 cars. So we knew there was a need. We chose Katonah because of the convergence of the highways and ease of serving bost Westchester and Fairfield County. My father and I partnered with a hedge fund to purchase a self-storage company called Storage Post and this property in 2004. We took about a year to build the car garage from scratch to go with the existing business. We opened in 2005 and built an addition in 2008.
Patch: What do you prefer to collect—or drive?
Machinist: I do have a few cars, and I prefer older stuff. I'm 29, not from an older generation, but I like the nostalgic element to vintage cars. Newer cars have computers and we are now so attached to modern technological devices that it's nice to drive one without. And I like to have something I can repair myself. I drive a Volksvagen every day, but I have an old 1972 BMW and a 1965 replica Cobra that I built here for myself over three years.
Patch: What was the first car you ever owned?
Machinist: My parents got me a Jeep Grand Cherokee. It was fine, like a family car. The first car I ever bought myself was an Audi S4. It was awesome.
Patch: So how many cars do you have stored here? Do people come visit them?
Machinist: We have about 350 cars representing about 120 clients and a lot of variety: Ford GTs, Aston Martins, every Ferrari, Porsches, classic Cadillacs and Pontiac GTOs and vintage and modern Corvettes. People do come visit their cars—they bring their families, hang out in our lounge—we're more than a garage, we're a social space and club. We have a slot car track for kids and we set up drives to area destinations and attend car shows together. We intended to create an atmosphere for the car collector to enjoy. We're at about 90 percent occupancy rate here—almost maxed out. But we love having new clients; there are at least 50 other enthusiasts around here with substantial collections that don't store with us.
Patch: So what's next then?
Machinist: The plan is to open more of these. I just opened a second location in Long Island and there are other metro areas we are targeting across the country. But in places we can have the space to make sure cars are cared for appropriately.
For more information, visit the car collector's garage website.