"If I could just get on top of my building with a loudspeaker that would cover this whole Western Kentucky area and just thank my customers, I would, 'cause they've been so good to me. It's been the best experience of my life," shared Ed Jones, owner of Ed's Muffler Service in Eddyville, which closed its doors late last month after 23 years of operation.
Jones attributed his retirement to the toll the physically demanding work has taken on his body. After 47 years of working with exhaust, he's ready to take it a little easier.
He had planned to retire in September, when he turns 66.
"It just got where it was too hard for me to do it," said Jones. "I've got some surgery coming up next week, and I just decided to retire a little early. Forty-seven years of doing exhaust work, working above your head, it just wore this old body out."
Jones is originally from the Detroit area, and came to Western Kentucky in 1978 to work at a shop in Draffenville. He owned two shops in Draffenville and Princeton in the early 1980s, but wound up going back to Michigan in 1985 to be with his family. He returned to Kentucky 10 years later, in April 1995, and opened Ed's Muffler Service.
Originally, he rented what was formerly a Texaco station at the corner of U.S. 641 and U.S. 62 in Eddyville. He eventually purchased the station, but replaced it 11 years ago with the building that stands there today.
"I don't brag on myself, but I've pretty much run the business by myself since the day I opened, except for when my wife was alive," Jones explained. "She answered the phone and done paperwork for me and stuff, but as far as the actual work, it's been just me for 23 years. The last 10 years it's been all me, so I've been a janitor, a secretary... I've just been it all."
Jones' wife, Terry, passed away about 10 years ago. He smiled as he recounted her sweet personality, and how she would often perch herself in a chair outside of the shop to work on her tan on nice days. After she died, Jones said, he was tempted to move back to Michigan to be with his children, but his customers kept him here.
"My customers, I'll praise them for the rest of my life for their support," he shared of the time right after Terry passed. "She was my soulmate, and I was struggling, trying to run a business, and I had a lot of my good customers stop in just to make sure I was all right. That meant a lot to me. They kept me going... My customers kept me here."
One of the things Jones said he will miss the most is doing custom work on classic cars. Clubs from as far as Nashville and St. Louis have traveled all the way to Eddyville to have him do their exhaust work.
"I'm really gonna miss that, because I always try to make them look like they come from the factory," he said.
Being a small business, most of Jones' business has come by word-of-mouth, a fact of which he's proud.
"It made me feel good to have customers come in here and say, 'You know, I talked to 10 people and asked them where I could get exhaust work done, and every one of them said Ed's Muffler Service.' I take a lot of pride in my work, and that's why it's hurting me so bad to have to close it up," Jones shared.
Part of the brand, if you could call it that, of Ed's Muffler is the personality Jones brings to his service.
Not one to be serious often, he made it a goal to get a laugh out of everyone who walked through the door.
"The days I enjoyed was when I had a customer come in who, you know not everybody can be in a good mood every day, and there was a lot of days when I came in here and I didn't feel like working," Jones said, "but if I could make one of my customers laugh it made me feel better. Some customers you'd have to try a little bit harder, but I don't know that I've ever had a customer that I couldn't make smile, and that was pretty much my goal when they left here; that they'd have a smile on their face."
"My dad always taught me your reputation is your most important thing, and he always taught all four of us boys to treat people the way you'd like to be treated and don't take advantage of them," he continued. "I never took advantage of anybody. I always gave them a fair price. I always figured out what I needed to make off of this stuff to make a living. I don't care nothing about getting rich."
Jones said even though he's retiring, he doesn't plan to just sit at home.
After a brief visit to Michigan to see his family, something that has been a rarity in the years he's owned the business, he will spend the summer working on the docks at Hu-B's in Kuttawa.
He said that while he once looked forward to retirement, now that it's here he's a bit conflicted, and Jones fought back tears as he shared his gratitude for his customers.
"I would just love to tell every one of them that I hope they realize how much I appreciate them," he shared. "Over the years, they've all been so good to me, and I just love them all... If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't hesitate one minute... I really wouldn't. I love my customers more than anything, and I hope they know how much I appreciate them... It's been a great ride. It's been a great ride."