Piedmont Profile: Familiar face, hometown feeling keep customers coming back to Alligood's
By Ronnie Gallagher
The place has sort of a Mayberry feel to it. Pull into the gas station at Lincolnton Road and Fulton Street, now called Alligood’s, and you could swear it was Wally’s Filling Station.
But instead of Andy and Barney sipping on a bottle of pop, it’s the very familiar face of Peter Fowler that greets you with a southern drawl and a smile.
It’s been that way for about 38 years.
Fowler came to the station back in 1971, two years before graduating from Salisbury High.
“You gotta love what you do,” Fowler said simply. “I’m a mechanic. And I love what I do.”
If he isn’t inside changing oil or inspecting a car, you can find him perched on a chair outside, watching the world slowly pass by. And the things he comes up with has new owner Cale Alligood marveling at his sidekick.
“He’ll see somebody ride by and say, ‘I worked on that car before they sold it to the people who sold it to them,’ ” Alligood chuckled. “Or he’ll see a car and say, ‘I know who owned that car before he sold it two times.’ He can tell you who lived in the house over there or the house three blocks away.”
Fowler doesn’t disagree there’s a Mayberry feel.
“It’s a neighborhood spot, not on the interstate,” Fowler said. “So you have regulars, not many strange customers. The best part of the job is good conversation and getting to see folks.”
Fowler figured he’d never see many of those loyal folks again when Bob Rodgers closed down in December.
“I was going to have to learn a new job,” the 53-year-old shrugged.
Enter Alligood, who was looking to open his own station. He saw an ad to buy the equipment and stopped by.
“Cale saw us inspecting cars one right after the other and changing oil one right after the other,” Fowler recalled. “He asked Bob if he’d lease the building.”
Alligood then asked Fowler his intentions.
“Peter said he was going on vacation and chill out for a while,” Alligood said. “He came back to work for me. After about two weeks, we realized we were pretty good together.”
Slowly but surely, old customers began resurfacing. One lady said it had been months but once she rode by and saw Fowler?
“She was happy to see Peter in here,” Alligood said. “He’s a friendly face to the customers.”
nnnFixing cars comes naturally to Fowler. He has been toying around with tools since the age of 10 when he put a lawn-mower motor on a soapbox derby car.
“We’d ride it around the K-Town Furniture parking lot on Sunday,” he said.
Fowler and his brother had to fix their own bicycles, whether it was a chain falling off or patching a tire.
“You fixed it or you didn’t ride it,” he said.
He followed his brother to the gas station in 1971 where he swept the floor, pumped gas, filled the drink machines and emptied the trash.
“There was little self-service back then,” Fowler said. “The front was never empty. It would keep two people busy.”
He worked eight hours a day Monday through Friday and 12 hours on Saturday.
Fowler says working on cars today is almost like a vacation compared to the early ’70s.
“Back then, if you had a ’65 model car with 50,000 miles on it, you already had brakes, mufflers, belts, hoses, two or three tuneups, two or three batteries … the list goes on and on. That doesn’t happen anymore. Nothing wears out like it used to.”
nnnThere were changes when Alligood leased the place.
“You have old habits and they’re hard to break,” Fowler said. “Everybody has a way to do things and until somebody shows you a better way, you stick with what works.”
Alligood is better on the technical side, always putting names of each customer in a computer. He lets Fowler do his thing.
“Peter’s an asset,” Alligood said. “People come in and ask for him. Luckily, the last few weeks, we’ve had cars waiting on us.”
It’s exactly the kind of atmosphere Alligood was looking for. He’s a country boy too.
Don’t believe it? He’s named after NASCAR driver Cale Yarborough.
“My mom was a big fan of his when I was born,” Alligood said with a grin.
Like Fowler, he’s proving that being a good ‘ol country boy still works in the business world.
And this Mayberry-esque existence is just fine with him.
“I wanted a place where people see my face and know me,” Alligood said. “I want to be a friend. A lot of people know Peter.”
That’s why so many in this neighborhood expect much more than just car maintenance when they pull in.
The regular customer knows Peter Fowler will always give you some good conversation, and maybe, just maybe, share a bottle of pop.