After more than 47 years in business and 55 years in the industry, Larry Dahl is moving on to the next chapter in his life. Proprietor of the long-standing Dahl’s Auto Works in Rushford, Dahl has secured new ownership for the business he fought hard to keep as notable business entity in the community.
“Over the years since, we have had a few individuals interested, but nothing serious who I thought would put the effort in and make the business a success,” says Dahl. “I didn’t want to see the business close after all the years it had been in Rushford.”
What a time it’s been. “I started working for Morken’s Service in the fall of 1962. I was doing everything from selling gas and changing oil to tires and cleaning up used cars,” he says. Dahl later attended school for to further his mechanical abilities. Later he went to front end school, aligning cars, pickups, and light mechanical work.
Before Christmas 1969, Alton Morken told Dahl and other employees that he was going to close the business at the end of the year. Dahl decided to open a body shop of his own, establishing it a day after New Year’s, 1970. Situated in the old Rushford chick hatchery, he recalls starting out without a single customer. “Stan Hoiland was the first person to give me a repair job. I worked six and seven days a week plus some nights to survive.” The first year was grueling, but at the conclusion, he hadn’t had to shutter the doors and had hired an employee. A year later; a second employee as the business continued to grow.
Purchasing land along what is now Industrial Drive, but called Pickle Alley by longtime residents, Dahl built a more adequate shop for his budding business. It was housed there for the next decade until opportunity struck again. “We did quite a bit of work for P&J Motors (Wilton Peterson and Jim Engrav),” recalls Dahl. “I told Jim that when they decided to sell I might be interested.
“Three years later he stopped by on a Saturday morning and said they were ready to sell, telling me to stop at the garage after I was done at noon.” Dahl did as he was instructed and by 1:30, the trio had agreed on a purchase price. He took over from Peterson and Engrav March 1, 1982. “I went from having two employees to 15.”
The growth soon hit another rough patch two years later with the economic recession. “We were paying up to 20.5% interest on our debt. The debt kept getting bigger and bigger,” he says. “Rushford State Bank hung with us; they didn’t want the business back. Everyone worked together and we started to climb out of that financial hole,” he adds.
Thankfully, Dahl had a stronghold in customer loyalty. “Over the years, we have had many good customers. The loyalty today for any business is not like earlier days.”
Keeping at it, Dahl was able to regain financial footing and continue to propel the business forward. Now a complete auto, truck, and diesel service, the company dealt and sold parts, tires, batters, mufflers, and did full auto body repair. With each step, the demand for upgrades continued. “The garage was not very fuel efficient. Each year we tried to make it warmer and handier. We put on new roofs, more insulation, new hoists and better equipment,” says Dahl.
He also added a retail lot for used vehicles. Business was booming and time was flying. Two decades later, he began to think of selling the business. He had a buyer in line, but ultimately the sale fell through.
In August of 2007, a 500-year flood hit Rushford and Dahl says he faced his largest hurdle. “All of the employees dug in and cleaned and cleared debris. It would have been easier and more economical to lock the doors and walk away, but I cared about the employees and the bank who had stuck with me. I did not want to be known as a ‘quitter,’” he says. Still, he acknowledges that business was never the same after the flood. “We lost many dedicated customers. Some we gained some back, but not all.”
Business continued as usual and Dahl resumed marketing the business for sale. Eventually, he split the businesses and buildings and sold them through separate negotiations. The building on the corner of Elm Street and W. Jessie Street was sold to Hinz Chiropractic for a new and expanded office in 2015. Later that summer, he sold the auto body shop on Pickle Alley to Leigh Volkman, who’d gotten his start working for Dahl years earlier. “I knew he would do a good job.”
Now, the building and maintenance and repair shop at 207 Elm Street will once again have new, young owners ready to take on a challenge. Chad and Scott Anderson will take over April 2 and Anderson Auto will take its place among Rushford businesses. Dahl’s retail sales of used vehicles will continue at the site until the end of June when his license is up for renewal. I will still be around and help as needed or wanted during this transition,” he notes.
“Chad and Scott will do very well with the garage. Young and energetic is a key to making a business grow to be successful,” he adds. Chad has been an employee of Dahl’s for more than 23 years. “He knows the business and is very dedicated to all the employees and customers alike.”