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Italian Immigrant Becomes Owner of Auto Body Shop in New Jersey

Mario Tommolillo
Owner, Mario’s Classic Auto Body of Paterson

On the morning that Mario Tommolillo arrived in the United States from Italy, his parents woke him up at 5 a.m. to see the Statue of Liberty. It was 1967, and the family entered New York harbor on the SS United States, then a famous ocean liner. “It was so foggy we couldn’t see our own noses,” Mario laughs. “But the important thing is that we had so much anticipation — we were so excited to become part of the best country in the world.” 

The family settled in Bergen County, where Mario’s father worked as a jeweler. Within a few days, Mario had started school and — despite being just 11 and speaking no English — also found evening work in a hardware store. “I’ve been working ever since,” he says. 

Mario’s parents hoped he’d get a college education, and he attended Bergen County Community College, but in 1974, he left to work as a driver in an auto dealership. “I thought it would be a short-term thing, but almost 50 years later I’m still working with cars” he says.

In 1994, after saving for many years, Mario refinanced his home and bought the dealership’s body shop. Today, it’s a thriving business with 14 employees and annual revenues of over $2 million. “It hasn’t been easy,” Mario says. “But I thank the Lord for giving me the strength to survive and keep all 14 of my guys working through the pandemic.” He has also put his two daughters through college — something that would make his parents proud. “I’m continuing their dream through my own two girls,” he says.

Mario is now a well-known figure in Passaic County. As an appointee to the Paterson Restoration Corporation and Urban Enterprise Zone, he supports local businesses. He also sits on the board of the local Boys & Girls Club, and is vice-president of The Columbians, an Italian-American group that has raised over $3 million for local causes, and donates tens of thousands every year to local food pantries. “I’m compelled to give back to this community, because it’s given me so much,” Mario says.

I’m thankful every day for what I was able to achieve, and I want to pay something back.

Mario Tommolillo

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…