Muffler Express closing after 47 years, but memories remain

After 47 years in the vehicle repair business, Muffler Express and Automotive Repair in Cape Girardeau will be closing later this month. Pictured are, from left, mechanic Don Glaus, president Sherry Rowland and bookkeeper Mary Groseclose.

"What can you say about 47 years at the same place?" Sherry Rowland asked.

The answer, it turns out, is quite a lot.

Rowland has served as president of Muffler Express and Automotive Repair since her husband, Jim, died in 2020. The couple opened their business Jan. 27, 1976. On Friday, Sept. 29, 2023, Rowland will close up shop.

She's been part of the company for its entire 47-year history. It was her husband's brainchild, however.

"My husband had a dream when he got out of the Air Force that he wanted to be his own boss. He ran a Derby station down on Broadway and Caruthers (Avenue) for three or four years. Then he knew he wanted to do this," she recalled. "There was not an independent muffler and brake shop in Cape at the time, and he felt like that was going to be a good way to go."

Muffler Express and Automotive Repair has serviced thousands of vehicles since Jim Rowland started the company in 1976. President Sherry Rowland said each service deck is sized differently to work on vehicles of all shapes and sizes.

Back in the early 1970s, 1205 N. Kingshighway was a vacant field. The Rowlands labored hard, cutting down trees from Jim Rowland's father's farm to construct a four-bay shop.

Four years to the day after their opening, they started work on additional bays and an entire expansion to the shop, which later became its office space.

For the first few years, the shop was part of the Scotti Muffler franchise. When that contract expired, the couple had people from Southeast Missouri State University conduct a feasibility study for a new name. The result became Muffler Express.

In addition to muffler work, employees fixed brakes, front-end systems, shocks, exhausts and suspensions. They changed oil and served as a state inspection site.

The Rowlands advertised Muffler Express services on a sign outside the shop. They added encouraging messages to it whenever they could.

Mary Groseclose has worked on and off at Muffler Express for 35 years. She will be retiring when the shop closes later this month.

"People read our sign, and we tried to change it once or twice a week. I've actually got a lot of 'thank you' notes where people would actually write a note and say, 'Your sign just keeps me going. I can hardly wait to see what you guys put up next,'" Rowland said. "We felt like we were doing something right."

She collected notes, newspaper clippings, pictures and letters in a series of photo albums. There are photos of work outings, employees' weddings, family gatherings and the shop's construction. There are letters from family members, customers and community groups. There are advertisements from generations ago. They all provide a snapshot of life as told through the people of Muffler Express.

The shop employed around five people at any given time, plus the Rowlands. Two of the most loyal and hardworking remain. Rowland described mechanic Don Glaus and bookkeeper Mary Groseclose as being her right-hand folks.

Groseclose has worked at Muffler Express for 35 nonconsecutive years. Glaus has worked there since he graduated high school in May 1976, just months after the shop opened.

"You could bring your car in, and if your tailpipe was OK, Don could just cut out the muffler and replace the muffler. If you needed a tailpipe or an exhaust pipe, he bent that with straight tubing and built that for your car," their employer said.

Don Glaus first started working at Muffler Express when he graduated high school in May 1976 and has been there since. The late owner, Jim Rowland, promised him a job there until he retired.

At one point or another, two of Glaus' brothers and a cousin also worked at Muffler Express. Jim Rowland had promised him a job until his retirement. His wife said she intends to keep that promise.

Around the time Groseclose started working at Muffler Express, Rowland began to take more time off. She had two young children, Todd and Tonya, to take care of.

For the longest time, the children had what Rowland called "the biggest playroom in the world". The family went without living room furniture for ages because of all the funds needed to upgrade Muffler Express, though Rowland did eventually get the furniture she desired.

Her husband was a workaholic, she said, and a bit of a perfectionist, but only because Muffler Express was his dream. He was always business-minded but with a great sense of humor.

"Jim loved his job. Jim just had a vision about this place a long time ago. He had a good business mind and he just ran with it," she said. "It was fun working with him. We loved what we did together, always."

Sherry Rowland has worked at Muffler Express since before it even opened. The brainchild of her late husband, she helped the shop grow both in person and by supporting her husband.

Rowland has worked part time at Kohl's for the last 16 years. Every so often, someone will approach her there to talk about their experiences at Muffler Express. They'll express sadness that the shop is closing or recall how her husband helped them with their vehicle even decades after the fact.

"I guess I'd like to say he was honest and told you like it was," Rowland said of her late husband. "It's kind of a tribute to Jim. He was the brains and brawn behind it. I'd like to say he was a good man."

She said she'll miss the people she met through Muffler Express most of all, adding she's been fortunate to have had the shop touch so many lives.

Rowland will host a retirement party for Glaus and Groseclose in the Muffler Express parking lot from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 27.

Sherry Rowland holds open a photo album with pictures, letters and news articles from Muffler Express' past. She and her husband opened the company Jan. 27, 1976.