Jerry Piper, longtime owner of Laguna Auto Parts, died Thursday evening after suffering a heart attack at his store Dec. 10. He was 60.
Piper was a close friend to many in Laguna Beach for decades. Born in San Clemente, he eventually took over the downtown business his father established on Broadway in the 1960s.
"This is a big shock for everybody," said longtime friend and fishing buddy Steven Battaglia, who built a makeshift memorial to Piper that's currently set up in the small lot behind the store at 1796 S. Coast Hwy., with candles and objects reflecting Piper's many interests, including hunting, fishing, diving, and honey-making. There's also a Christmas tree decorated with empty cans of Piper's favorite brand, Miller Genuine Draft.
A handwritten card left on the memorial included several comments from friends, one of which read, "We lost a solid rock of Laguna - Jerry, you will be missed!"
"He was probably the best guy in the whole world," continues Battaglia. "He took care of people and was always helping people. There was never a problem with money. If somebody came in and they needed brakes but didn't have money, he would tell them to pay him later, and then teach them how to put brakes on. He was always giving like that, he gave you everything you wanted. Now we’re all screwed—we have all these old cars and we can’t fix them without Jerry!"
Laguna Auto Parts employee Greg Etter knew Piper for 18 years.
"If you needed money, he loaned you money," Etter recalls. "If you were short, it was always, 'Pay me when you come back next time.'"
Battaglia remembers a recent incident that reflects how Piper was a different style of businessman.
"This guy comes in, and he has this can of motor oil from 20 years ago he bought at the store—he knew the date because it has the sticker on it still. He says he doesn't have any use for this oil, and can he get his money back, and Jerry says 'Oh yeah, sure,' and he gives him his money back! I couldn’t believe he did that, but that was Jerry. Everybody loves him, and still will. He’s a legend."
"Jerry would change your windshield wipers for you in the rain, for free," recalls Blair McManus. "And everybody loved his dog. He trained his dog to open his refrigerator, get a beer, and bring it to them."
Laguna Auto Parts was "his place, this is where it was happening," says Battaglia. "We started having fish frys here, and then moved them to Bluebird Park. Last year we had over 200 people come out for the fish fry. Everybody in this town will miss him."
A memorial gathering for Piper is set for this Wednesday, Dec. 19, at 3 p.m. in Bluebird Park. The public is invited.
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