Auto dealers main fixture in community
Glimpses of Yesteryear
Wednesday, August 22, 2012 3:24 AM
Did you notice the handsome dark-haired dude in the upper left above the photo - the younger of the gents? None other than our present-day white-haired yet vigorous publisher, Dave Phillips! He's still doing a great job.
From the Spring Valley Tribune - 1990, when Al Marchant was celebrating his 90th birthday.
In the photo, taken about l990, Chrysler dealer Al Marchant was celebrating his 90th birthday, and two other auto dealers showed up to express their best wishes. As the caption notes, the car dealers practiced cooperation, not competition. Gordon Peterson, at left, operated the Ford dealership, and Roger Zeimetz had General Motor's Chevrolet, Buick & Pontiac line, plus there was the "largest used car dealer" in the area (Kuehn Motors) and two more used car lots.
This exceptional "choice of businesses" drew many customers to Spring Valley and it was pointed out that the same held true for the local farm implement dealers. Quite remarkable, don't you think?
In the article it was noted Al Marchant was one of the "most senior businesspersons in Spring Valley." In January 1923, he came to town with wife Alma, to set up his business on East Main Street where it has remained for 89 years. At first, the business was a battery shop, a necessity, as often drivers stored their batteries over winter and needed them recharged or rebuilt in springtime.
Marchant represented one of the largest companies at that time - Willard Storage Battery - and he also sold radios, a new fad in the 1920s. In 1933 Marchant added a filling station, then known as Marchant's Super Service, and he bought more space to the west. That year, 6 gallons of gas cost about a dollar - talk about the good old days.
Three years later Marchant began to sell Plymouth and Chrysler cars (later Dodge trucks) and the station boasted a Cities Service sign. He also sold Goodyear tires and became headquarters for Norge appliances.
Marchant recalled that during World War II, no new cars were made, but after the war business resumed, and in 1949 he bought Gay Caflish's blacksmith shop to expand the west end of the business front. When Sharon Jahn wrote a history on the Marchant business at sesquicentennial time in 2005, she noted two long-term employees: Lloyd Finneseth was with the firm for 48 years until his sudden death in 1977, and bookkeeper Mabel Lamson was behind the desk for 40 years before her retirement.
In a little side note: As a child, Mabel had served as a flower girl at the wedding of her cousin, Eliza Jane Wilder when she married T.J. Thayer. Mabel was greatly bemused by her "cousin" relationship with Laura Ingalls Wilder as Laura's husband, Almanzo's parents, James and Angeline Wilder, were Mabel's uncle and aunt.
Al Marchant saw many changes in his long tenure as a local merchant. The old columned bridge along Main Street was removed and replaced, the flood of 1942 being especially devastating. However, the Marchants have often experienced flood crises and have moved new cars to higher ground many times. Al and Alma had two children: Ann White who lives in Nevada, and Harlan, who took over the management and operation of Marchant Motors in 1966. Al remained active and interested in daily affairs until his death in 1996 at age 96.
Not long ago, during 'hard times' for the Detroit auto makers, Chrysler made the tragic decision to close down many of their dealerships in small towns, the very places that had brought them prosperity. Harlan had no choice in the matter and was forced to remove the Chrysler sign. However, he remains faithful and dedicated to his customers, and the auto body repair and service center continues with loyal employees: Jim McCabe, Lee Rentschler, Scott Fingerson and Sue Hendrickson. McCabe has been on duty since 1968 (44 years - another record?) and knows the autos inside and out.
Along with Harlan and Jim, perhaps Roger Zeimetz is also one of our "senior" businessmen, and many others we could name. Roger has been in business with his brothers since 1971 when they bought Lundby's dealership for Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac and Oldsmobile. Forty-one years - a pretty good record, right?
Peterson Motors, the Ford-Mercury dealers, established its business in 1968 but closed about 2009, another 41 years, and recently Grafe Auction Co. purchased that site.
Harlan tells us the photographer missed a unique photo op because attending Al Marchant's 90th birthday party were three other 90 year olds - John Osterud, Elmer Anderson and Doc Zittleman, all with "records" of their own.
We give thanks for these resourceful and longtime business folks who have made Spring Valley a special place to live and thrive. Bless 'em all.