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Joe Tamborello, longtime owner of Ybor’s Tamborello Service Station, dead at 73

The business was more than a place where cars were repaired. It was an Ybor City gathering place.

TAMPA — Joe Tamborello, Sr. was born the same day his family opened their Ybor City service station.

That business remained central to his life for the next 69 years, until he sold the property and retired in 2016.

Mr. Tamborello died on January 31 of lymphoma. He was 73.

Joe Tamborello Jr. said his father would want to be remembered as a loving family man. But that family extends well beyond those who share his DNA.

“Ybor was also his family,” Tamborello Jr. said. “He would want to be remembered for his commitment to that family. When he retired, we often heard that people couldn’t imagine what Fourth Avenue would look like without Tamborello Service Station.”

The business, said Kimberly DeFalco, who lived across from the service station for 13 years, was more than a place where cars were repaired. It was an Ybor gathering place.

“Daily, vehicles passed by the station, honking their horns and waving,” DeFalco said. “Many stopped in. On any given day, elected officials, community leaders and people with multi-generational Tampa roots could be found just hanging out.”

A row of weathered recliners lined the service bay. Those were reserved for Mr. Tamborello’s closest friends known as “the recliner boys.”

“Eventually, everyone visiting Tamborello’s became a friend to Joe. Many people sat in those recliners over the years,” DeFalco said. “Joe represented a sense of intimate community that sadly has faded over time."

This photograph from 2016 is of "the recliner boys" at Tamborello Service Station. (From left) Mike Maggio, Nelson Antinori, Joe John Fuentes, and Vincent Mandese. [ JONES, OCTAVIO | Times ]

Mr. Tamborello’s father and uncle, Henry Sr. and Sam, opened the service station at 1715 E. Fourth Ave. on Sept. 6, 1946. Back then it was called Tamborello Bros. and also sold gasoline.

But the start of that first day of business was delayed until 10 a.m., Mr. Tamborello once told the Tampa Bay Times, because he was born earlier that morning.

His father and uncle knew the name and personal history of each customer, Mr. Tamborello once recalled, and offered lines of credit to be paid when a patron could afford to do so rather than on a set schedule.

Henry Tamborello Sr. and his brother Philip stand outside what was then called Tamborello Bros. service station sometime in the late 1940s. Henry Tamborello and his brother Sam started the Ybor City station. [ Courtesy of the Tamborello family ]

Mr. Tamborello started working there around the age of 5, typically pumping gas, but was shooed away from the garage because his father did not want him to learn the trade.

“He would tell me to keep my hands clean and go to college,” Mr. Tamborello once told the Times.

That’s what he did. Mr. Tamborello graduated from the University of South Florida in 1968 with a degree in industrial management. He then spent 12 years managing department stores, first a Montgomery Ward and then a Robinson’s of Florida.

But the allure of Ybor and the family business was too much to resist.

In 1980, Mr. Tamborello returned to the service station that his brother Henry Jr. had taken over.

Henry Tamborello, left, and his brother Joe Tamborello in 2016. [ JONES, OCTAVIO | Times ]

Henry Jr. looked after the team of mechanics, Mr. Tamborello ran the office and they changed the name to Tamborello Service Station to reflect that they had gotten out of the gasoline business and were focusing solely on auto repair.

The brothers continued to operate the service center until May 2016.

Related: After nearly 70 years, the Tamborello brothers close their Ybor City service station

Through the decades, they retained the same core of customers and then added those patrons’ kids and grandkids. They never abandoned the service station’s longtime policy that regulars paid when they could.

“My grandfather always said that if you do good, you forget about it. If you do bad, you will always remember it,” Joe Tamborello Jr. said. “My dad always strove to be good. Anyone who knew him will say that is why he succeeded.”

Nels Johnson, right, speaks with Joe Tamborello at the Tamborello Service Station in 2016. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]


Joe Tamborello Sr.

Born: September 6, 1946

Died: January 31, 2020

Survived by: wife Dinah, sons Joe Jr. and Michael, brother Henry, sister RoseAnn, five grandchildren and many nieces and nephews.