Major changes are coming to a long-standing Hastings business.
Joe O'Brien Chevrolet was sold recently to the Valley Automotive Group and it will be renamed Valley Chevrolet. The deal was made formal two weeks ago, and changes have been under way since.
"It was time," former O'Brien Chevrolet owner Tim O'Brien said.
His wife and co-owner Holly O'Brien said the past few years have been challenging ones for the business. It all started in the summer of 2009, when a letter arrived from General Motors, telling the O'Briens they were going to be losing their dealership - or at least their ability to sell new Chevrolets.
The O'Briens fought the move, a battle that took a year. In the meantime the dealership's inventory took a hit. They weren't getting new vehicles and were focused on just keeping their business open.
Finally, they got word that they could retain their dealership. They agreed to meet a number of conditions, and one of those conditions ultimately proved to be a significant challenge - they would have had to rebuild their site, pumping in hundreds of thousands of dollars into a significant facelift. They crunched the numbers and just couldn't make it all work.
Valley came calling, the O'Brien's listened and the timing was right.
"The timing was just such that Valley was looking for a way to expand their group, and they thought (our Chevy dealership) would be a good fit," Tim O'Brien said. "They approached me with the question of whether or not I'd be willing to sell. Like anything, if the offer is right ... .
"The new guys coming in, they'll be doing all the hoop jumping that we would have had to have done had we stayed."
Was it still hard for Tim O'Brien to sell the dealership?
"A little bit," he said. "We've been doing it for 37 years, you know? This still feels like my day off. I keep walking around thinking I have to do some stuff on my day off."
As Valley begins the transition inside the building, Holly O'Brien was asked to stay around and help ease the change. She figures she'll be working in that role for a month or so.
The O'Briens have planned a Christmas-time trip to Florida to visit Tim's father.
"It's been a long time since we did that," Tim O'Brien said.
Hastings has had a Chevy dealership since 1916. From the 1950s to the mid-1970s, it was Freed Chevrolet. In 1974, Joe O'Brien purchased the dealership and renamed it.
Tim O'Brien and his wife Holly then assumed ownership of the business.
Holly O'Brien said that when she and Tim began to seriously consider selling, they set forth some principles they wanted to stick to. They didn't want a big-city dealer, they wanted someone customers could trust, and they wanted to be sure the only people who would hit the unemployment line would be themselves. With the sale to Valley, they accomplished all three, they said.
Now the next chapter of life will begin for the O'Briens.
"We are so grateful to this community, our customers and our employees," Holly O'Brien said. "We would not have been able to save the dealership if it weren't for all of them.
In 1993, Valley moved to Hastings when they bought the Buick GMC dealership. That business is located just north of Hastings on Highway 61. They're familiar with the market, and were eager to expand here.
"We know this town, and Valley has a great reputation in this town," said Craig Bilgrien, the Valley Buick GMC general manager. "Another GM store in town makes some good business sense - it's just a great opportunity for us. We can add another dealership in the area to make us even more impactful in the southeastern metro, and up and down the river. Plus, Chevy has a wonderful brand. They've got great, great cars that are coming along."
The Buick GMC store has 35 full-time employees and about 20 part-timers.
Valley Chevrolet employs about 10 people right now, and if all goes as planned that number will move up. It shouldn't be long before Valley begins to roll out significant changes at the site, with work already being considered to revamp the space.
The corner of Highway 316 and Spiral Boulevard could see work yet this year.