Mike Herriman and his family run Vern's Collision and Glass in the Eastside Franklin Park neighborhood. Jenifer Veloso | Flintside
FLINT, Michigan -- The narrative that dominates Flint’s eastside is the impact that General Motors leaving the area had on surrounding neighborhoods. However, the stories of people and businesses who have remained through those waves of loss remain a source of pride.
Vern’s Collision and Glass has been a trusted staple in the Eastside Franklin Park neighborhood since 1971. The business was started by current owner Mike Herriman’s father. Now, Mike and his wife Trudy run the repair shop with their children and grandchildren. The family understands the role that family and strong relationships with the community play in running a long-lasting business.
Herriman’s grandchildren, in their spare time, will help run the phones and the front office of Vern’s.
“It’s a great experience for them to see how we interact with people that come through the door,” Herriman said. “When I hear them manage the phone and their professionalism exercised when they’re talking to somebody, that’s one of the greatest things about having your own business. You can see how those things develop.”
Herriman’s enduring love for his family extends to the way Vern's treats and cares for the surrounding community.
“The neighborhood has just always been great to us,” he said. “I've had people call my cell phone at nine o’clock at night and say, ‘Hey, your front gates are unlocked.’ They've watched out for us. So we've always looked at whoever comes through that door with whatever concern that they've got, what can we do to help with whatever the situation is to create a better outcome.
“And whatever they’ve brought to us, whether it's repairing a car, or clearing up a street ... We just never know what's going to come through the door. So we look at it as what can we do to help, to create a better outcome for whatever situation they're bringing to us.”
Vern’s has supported and been part of local neighborhood cleanups and problem-solving to help end increasing crime surrounding the repair shop. The main issue related to increased crime is the number of empty and blighted buildings and homes in the area. Herriman has tried to help whenever possible to fight those issues.
“What we see across the board is that in most cases there are laws and ordinances in effect to manage and deal with most of the things that are coming up, what there is not is the authorization to enforce those ordinances and laws,” Herriman said.
Several years ago, Herriman met with former Flint Chief of Police James Tolbert and former city attorney Angela Wheeler to write and implement an ordinance that would end loitering surrounding local businesses. The ordinance was successful until a change in police and city administration ended enforcement of it.
Herriman also understands that arresting and imprisoning violators of the ordinance isn’t the answer, but rather providing police and residents better resources to keep the community safe.
“We were told to treat some of the loiterers as criminals, and I told him we should treat them as medical patients,” Herriman said. “I don’t know what they’re suffering from. There’s just a variety of things that could be causing someone to be there [loitering] other than their desire to do criminal activity. We don’t think that most people wake up in the morning and say, ‘I’m going to commit a crime.’ No, they don’t.”
Herriman and his wife have built relationships with people surrounding the shop in the community and have witnessed what long-term unresolved poverty can create. During a previous winter, one of the vacant homes near the repair shop caught fire and people Herriman had grown to know were killed in the fire while trying to find shelter.
“Demolition is progress,” said Herriman. “It creates green space. When you drive by and see kids playing baseball in a vacant lot where there used to be a really bad house six months earlier, and they were climbing in and out of the windows of the house, that’s progress.”
When a previous home across the street from Vern’s Collision and Glass had turned into an unsafe space for the family residing in the home, Mike and Trudy worked together to find a solution. The Herriman’s worked alongside the Genesee County Land Bank, the police, and the health department.
“We deal with every situation that we see as best we can, and as a team,” he said. “Trudy gets a hold of her contacts, I get mine, and the boys get a hold of theirs. We just are part of what every citizen in the city should do. If you’ve got a problem, take care of it. Find a solution. The statement that says, ‘somebody’s got to do something about this’ ... we prefer to say, ‘yeah, we’ve done some looking into it and we think this is what needs to be done to create a solution.’”
When Vern’s was closed last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, the shop donated surplus PPE and relevant supplies to medical workers in the community.
“We were down a lot for a while,” he said. “Luckily all of the personal protection equipment we had already because of our business. So we had the 97% rubbing alcohol. We had face masks, face shields, you know, we had everything that people were scraping to get.”
Herriman’s concern for the community transcends into the way the repair shop runs the business as well. Mike smiled when he said, “Years ago, one of the things that we decided was that there are always businesses that can compete to try to be the cheapest, but we decided there were a few businesses that competed to try to be the best.”
Herriman continues to live in Flint and takes pride in the reputation and legacy Vern’s Collision and Glass holds on the eastside. Herriman and his family hold Vern’s Collision and Glass to a higher standard and not at the expense of people seeking help.
“Instead of using the cheaper inferior parts, for example, we only use the original parts,” he said. “So for the GM vehicle, we only use original GM parts. Even if the insurance company pays for the cheaper inferior parts, we still don't use them. We still use the GM. We do that without the customer having to pay the difference. That sets us apart. So we've done that for years. That's our reputation in the industry and people refer other customers here because they know that's the process we're going to do and we're going to follow. We're going to use our experience to follow the factory's recommended procedures to return the vehicle to pre-loss condition using the factory recommended parts, period.”