The voice -- deep, sonorous, and slow -- rang out every time a customer called the shop: "Plaza Tire & Auto. Gabe Cortez speaking."
For more than 35 years, Cortez's humor, patience, and honesty have made life better for the untold Miamians who took their ailing cars to his midtown shop, Plaza Tire & Auto. Cortez, who was 77, died late Wednesday.
Born and raised in Chicago, Cortez was drafted into the Air Force in 1958 and eventually stationed in Homestead. He never left South Florida.
In 1977, he opened his first shop at NE 40th Street and Second Avenue. Five years later, he moved to a larger spot a few blocks south, at 31st Street, and stayed put. His philosophy was simple: Tell customers the truth, and do it with a smile.
"It was his personality that brought people to the shop," his son Andrew Cortez says. "His belief was, if you're honest with customers, they'll come back."
That they did. Plaza Tire & Auto is an institution and has been a regular winner in New Times Best of Miami issues.
"The guys at Plaza Tire & Auto Center are the most honest and quick-working in Miami," we wrote in 2011. "You know what Gabe is thinking by his earnest voice, so it's easy to trust him."
Three generations of Cortezes have worked with Gabe at Plaza at some point or another, including all three of his sons, John, Michael and Andrew; his daughter, Cathe; and even some grandkids.
"We were in there helping out when we were 10," Andrew recalls.
As Gabe had taken ill in recent years, John took over more day-to-day duties of running the shop. But up until the past couple of weeks, Gabe was still a regular fixture, working the front desk and dishing out that famous greeting on the phone.
He passed away Wednesday night in his bedroom at the same house near Little River he's lived in since 1964.
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A memorial is scheduled Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m. at Gregg Mason Funeral Home, Andrew says. A funeral mass will be held Monday at 11 a.m. at St. Rose of Lima in Miami Shores.