RINGGOLD, Ga. - As a mechanic for the last 31 years, Cotton Perry is used to helping people after breakdowns.
But after a tornado destroyed his Ringgold Service Center in April, he's thankful the generosity of a rival mechanic shop has kept him from a major financial breakdown of his own.
"We didn't know what we were going to do," Perry said. "I can never repay what they've done out of generosity."
After hearing about his competitor's problem, Mark Teter, who co-owns Teter and Co., called Perry to offer the use of three of his bays so Perry could help his customers and pay his employees.
"They brought us in here like family," Perry said. "It's kept us from being in a food line somewhere."
Teter acknowledged that his company could have picked up a couple of Perry's customers if the service center was forced to close.
"We could have enhanced our business ... but that's not the way to do things," he said. "[Sharing the space] was the right thing to do."
The veteran body man said he wouldn't have offered a quarter of his floor space to just anyone, but the two shops have a long history.
Teter started his body shop 30 years ago, about 18 months after Perry opened his garage. Back then, the two frequently referred customers to each other. Teter often towed vehicles for Perry using the body shop's truck.
But four or five years ago, Teter's shop started to offer a full line of auto repair work, putting them in direct, though friendly, competition.
Lindsay Teter, co-owner of the shop, said she and her father didn't hesitate once they came up with the idea.
"We would want someone to do it for us if the shoe was on the other foot," she said.
Perry said he was looking at "deep financial trouble" if he didn't get his shop back up and running. He and his four mechanics were thinking of having to work on cars in parking lots or at their homes, he said.
Two mechanics had to find other temporary work until his shop can reopen, which Perry hopes can happen in six months. Teter has said they can have the space "as long as they need."
But sharing one shop between two companies, two crews of mechanics and two sets of customers creates logistical issues.
When skies clouded up last week, Perry and Lindsay Teter had to move a copper Chevrolet Custom 10 pickup belonging to one of Perry's customers so they could back a Teter customer's Lexus SUV out of a bay to make room so a Honda that the Teters had just primed could be under cover in case of rain.
But it's all worth it to Teter, who said the person-to-person and spiritual rewards outweigh any financial or logistical costs.
"If you have an opportunity to help somebody you should do it," he said. "When I'm pleading my case with the Maker I'd like to have a few good things to say about myself."
Ringgold Service Center customers also are saying good things.
Geri Allen said she's been bringing her cars to Perry for 15 years and didn't know where to take her Ford Focus when it needed brake work after the storm.
She said the Teters' generosity is a great example of the community banding together.
"These are in competition," she said of the businesses. "I said, 'That's great.'"