‘The Lawnmower Lady’: Florence native turns her love for ‘tinkering’ into a small engine repair business
There might be no one happier to see the sun break through the clouds and the temperatures begin to rise than Melissa Lee.
Affectionately know as “The Lawnmower Lady,” Lee is ready for summer and for people to get out and start doing yard work. This past November she opened Ashton's Small Engine and Repair. It’s located at 804 East Palmetto St. in the building that formerly served as Rick’s Pawn Shop. Despite two handwritten signs on the door that read, “This is NOT a pawn shop,” folks walk in or still poke their heads in the door and ask anyway.
“You’d think the sign would be all you need, but you’d be amazed at the number of people who still come in here thinking we are a pawn shop,” said Lee.
She’s actually used the pawn shop angle to sell one of her mowers. She said the customer came in thinking it was a pawn shop and left with a new Spartan mower.
Ashton's will hold a “Spring Celebration” on Saturday with giveaways throughout the day from numerous dealers who will be on hand, including Spartan mowers, eNVy all terrain vehicles and RedMax power equipment. One lucky customer will win a Redmax trimmer.
Lee, who has lived in Florence all her life, says her business has done quite well during its first four months. The repair shop has been very busy, especially in the last few weeks, and she has sold 12 Spartan riding mowers.
“I’m real happy,” she said. “With the weather warming up. I expect it will get even busier and that’s fine with me.”
Lee does all the repair work that comes in, or at least she did until recently. Business has picked up so much she had to hire another technician, Brandon Cassidy, to help.
She said folks will come in to the store to have a lawnmower or some other piece of equipment repaired and ask who will be doing the work.
“You’re looking at her,” is her usual response.
“A lot of them are surprised because you don’t normally think of women as mechanics,” said Lee. “I guess I’m kind of like the exception to the rule.”
Lee said she has loved “tinkering with things” since a young age. She remembers looking over her dad’s shoulder as he fixed the family lawnmower or anything else that was broke and in need of fixing.
Her mother, Pat Lee, is the longtime director of the Florence County Fairgrounds. She and her father would work on the tractors and bush hogs when there was a problem. When her dad passed away, Martha continued to help her mom with the fairground’s equipment repairs.
She worked at Honda for close to three decades before her position there was eliminated. She chose to take a severance package along with her retirement and begin a new chapter in life.
Lee eventually decided to open up a small engine repair shop. She believed there was a need for it. One day she drove by a For Rent sign in front of the former pawn shop and decided that it would be a great location.
She named the store Ashton’s after her father.
“I think I first picked up working on engines and doing repairs from him,” she said. “Besides, there are a lot of folks out there who would not come to a repair shop named after a woman.”
How did she get the name “Lawnmower Lady?” As Lee tells it, a young man wandered by the store even before it had opened and looking for the pawn shop. Lee informed him that the pawn shop was no longer open and that she would be opening a new repair shop. He then asked if she could fix the string on his lawnmower and she said yes. Lee fixed his mower and the young man responded by saying, ”You’re gonna be my lawnmower lady.” She’s had the nickname ever since.
Lee says her store’s slogan is “We fix what others don’t want to.” Awaiting repairs in the store’s workshop are riding and push mowers, generators, pressure washers, and trimmers. She’s also worked on chippers, stump grinders, and log splitters.
Her sister, Wanda, helps her out on most days by watching the counter and assisting customers while Lee works in the repair shop.
While she knows there are many who are apprehensive about a woman doing repair work, she suggests they simply give her a try.
“The work will speak for itself,” she said.
Ashton's Small Engine and Repair is an authorized dealer of several reputable brands, such as Spartan Mowers, Red Max, Briggs & Stratton, Kawasaki, and eNVy. The store does offer financing through partnerships and will pick-up and deliver mowers and other equipment at an additional cost.
Visit the store online at www.ashtonssmallenginerepair.com, email ashtonssmallenginerepair@gmail. com, or call (843) 407-4600.
Spartan lawnmowers are lined up on the showroom floor at Ashton's Small Engine and Repair.
Ashton's Small Engine and Repair is located in the building that was formerly Rick’s Pawn Shop. Despite two signs on the front door, owner Martha Lee says she has customers coming in thinking it is still a pawn shop.