Big-hearted man transforms west end eye-sore (19 photos)Tuesday, April 24, 2012 by: Carol Martin
John Bitonti arrived in Canada from Italy in 1968, at the age of 16, with one suitcase full of belongings.
"It was snowing and I didn't have a winter coat," he said. "I had left it behind because it didn't fit in my suitcase with all the gifts I wanted to bring."
Bitonti (shown) said he didn't have to come to Canada because he was doing fine working in Italy and Switzerland but wanted to explore the world and seek out new adventures.
It was this very pioneering spirit and confidence that led him to purchase the building at 92 Second Line.
Ironically, the very day he signed the papers for it was the day SooToday.com ran a story about what an eyesore the building was and how City Council was going to order the former owner to fix it up or do it for him and put costs on his tax bill.
Bitonti, known locally as the dealer with a heart, owns and operates Bitonti Motors and has been in that business since he retired from his job as a pipefitter at Algoma Steel more than ten years ago.
When he was looking at the derelect building on Second Line he was thinking about renovating it to turn into a tire shop because it would go well with the auto dealership he owned.
"When I said that to the guys they said, 'no, no - that's too much work. Lease it out,'" Bitonti said.
He set to work renovating the building - adding interior walls, doors, windows, electrical, heat and plumbing systems as well as many other projects on the building that was, essentially, a gutted, ugly hulk.
After about a year of renovations, much done by Bitonti himself, the building stood vacant for sometime with no one interested in leasing it.
So Bitonti revisited his idea for a tire shop and just a few weeks ago OK Tire officially opened for business in the once derelect - now beautiful - former funeral home at 92 Second Line.
The business is family-run operation with Bitonti's sons Michael and Frank Bitonti operating it.
They've hired two full-time employees so far and Bitonti hopes to hire more as business picks up.
A grand opening event is planned for the near future.