At the age of 26, Mel Donenfeld (pictured above with sons Eric, left, and Cory, right) opened Northwest Autobody and Towing in 1978.
The business provides major auto body collision repair and towing service in the northern Idaho region, and is Gold Class certified by I-CAR – an international organization which promotes the highest level of technical skill in the collision industry.
In 2014 Northwest Autobody, and Towing opened a second, Bonner County location, in Ponderay. That same year Northwest Autobody and Towing was named the Farmers insurance repair facility of the year.
Northwest Autobody is a participant in the Sandpoint High School auto body program, providing opportunities for local students to learn the business and the industry. In fact, Northwest Auto Body has employees who started in the SHS program and stayed. One of those employees is Vinny, a 20-year employee.
Northwest Autobody has deep ties to the region, and cares about the community.
The Donenfeld Family Story
In the late 1960’s, Mel Donenfeld was a young man with big dreams and a rebel attitude trying to find his own path in this world. He worked as a taxi cab driver in New York which gave him the inspiration to travel the world. Fresh out of high school, Mel set out on his own path with only a few bucks in his wallet and a big dream. As he got started on his journey, he passed an auto body shop in Boston that caught his eye. He thought he would ask the owner if he had any extra paint laying around. The owner of the shop gave him some paint and in return Mel helped the body shop owner wash some cars and clean the shop. The owner was so impressed in Mel’s work ethic that he offered him a job. Mel accepted the opportunity and worked there for about a year which enticed Mel’s curiosity in the auto body and paint profession.
Mel’s next opportunity came in a do-it yourself auto body and mechanic shop. Customers would come in and he would help them repair their cars with the proper equipment and materials. At some point, the owner of the do-it-yourself shop left Mel in charge while he was away. When he got back, Mel explained to him that he had big dreams to travel West. The owner of the shop gave him a bonus for doing such a great job. This gave Mel the opportunity to travel west through Canada with a few friends. The group of friends found a great town called Banff in Alberta. After exploring Banff, and running low on money, they dropped back in to the States.
Heading from Canada to Colorado, Mel and his friends passed through beautiful North Idaho. One small town in particular made a lasting impression on Mel. Sandpoint’s natural beauty had Mel in awe, but he continued his travels and arrived in Colorado. Because he had a few years of experience and good timing, Mel got a job at a Ford dealership in the auto body shop. He now realized that his niche was automotive refinishing. Mel was now a professional in the industry, he was an outstanding painter. Things were great and he loved Colorado but he couldn’t forget that amazing town in Idaho that had taken his breath away. From the beautiful mountains and lakes to the friendly people, Sandpoint was calling him back.
Once Mel had a few weeks of vacation built up, he and a friend headed to Sandpoint to fill that desire of the great beauty, mountains, and lakes that he was longing for. After a few weeks exploring North Idaho and the culture of the people, he realized that Sandpoint was the place for him.
Mel decided to leave Colorado and move to Sandpoint. He got a job at a body shop, but Mel was an entrepreneur at hart, and eventually decided to open his own shop. In 1976 Northwest Autobody was formed. The only space Mel could afford was a building that had dirt floors and wood planks. Mel prided himself on doing a good job at a fair price, his business grew and he was able to purchase a piece of land. That piece of land on Michigan Street in Sandpoint is where Northwest Autobody is still operating to this day.
Mel started a family in 1982. He had two sons and one daughter. As the years went on, Northwest Autobody grew stronger. Good morals, honesty, and high quality work have always been the foundation of the company and proven to be the key to a legacy. His sons, Eric and Cory, continued the legacy with their interest in cars and the industry.
Eric went to college for business and Cory for auto body. They both went to work for Northwest Autobody, which continued to grow at a fast rate with the desire for high quality workmanship. As space grew tighter and demand for repairs increased, they decided to take a leap of faith and open a second location in Ponderay, Idaho.
Eric and Cory are committed to keep the small town feel, and excellent customer service, with high quality workmanship at Northwest Autobody. They take pride in being gold-class certified in I-Car and requiring all of their employees to continue their certifications as well. They continue to lead the industry with continuous training and state of the art equipment. Northwest Auto Body strives for the highest quality paint booths, frame racks, welders, measuring equipment, and technology. Northwest Autobody as recently added to their equipment by purchasing the newest aluminum welders and has become recognized as a Ford aluminum certified repair facility at the Ponderay location. Northwest Autobody is also certified through Assured Performance for GM, Cadillac, Jeep, Dodge, Ram, Fiat, Hyundai.
The Donenfelds are very grateful for everything that the community has given them. They regularly give back to the community through donations and volunteering for organizations such as Sandpoint Rotary, Friend of the Pend Oreille Bay Trail, and North Idaho College, as well as many others. Sandpoint High School has set up a special job placement with their students where they have the opportunity to work in the shop and earn a credit. We have one employee that started with us over 20 years ago through this program.
Mel Donenfeld started the Northwest Autobody and Towing legacy over 41 years ago. His work ethic and values are highly regarded in the community. Mel has recently retired – passing along the torch to his boys Eric and Cory to follow their dreams and inspirations. Mel knows with honesty and good morals that his son’s futures will be successful.
Mel is honored to live and work in the Sandpoint area. He looks forward to enjoying his retirement by Skiing at Schweitzer and attending events happening in our area. The Donenfeld Family and Northwest Autobody are very proud of serving the community and would like to thank all of their customers for contributing to our success. Northwest Autobody looks forward to many more enjoyable years in North Idaho.
-The Donenfeld Family