In 1948, two brothers, Otto and Elthor Huber, took a gambit in transitioning an automobile repair shop they operated into a full car dealership.
Seventy-five years later, the Hazen Motor Company continues as a mainstay of Hazen community life and of local family business, with Otto’s youngest son Steve as their current dealer.
“I think we’ve been a very strong part of Hazen and a major business here, especially on the service side,” Steve said. He credits the fact that Hazen Motors is still going strong, while other Chevy dealerships in rural western North Dakota have closed, to the emphasis on quality service and the relationship that the employees there have made with their customers and with the community as a whole.
Although Hazen Motors has always been located in its current site at the southeast corner of the Main St./Central Ave. intersection, the building itself has seen several changes over the years. What is today the car dealership was once the Hazen Motor and Electric Shop, owned by Leonard Wohlfeil.
In 1944, Otto Huber purchased the automobile repair equipment section from Wohlfeil, and the two jointly operated in the same building from 1944 until 1948. Otto’s brother Elthor joined him in 1946.
In 1948, the Hubers purchased the whole building from Wohlfeil, and also purchased the Barthel and Buri Chevrolet and Case dealership, which had been located in the Hazen Electric building.
Hazen Motors quickly became a family enterprise. Not all of Otto’s eight children became involved with the business, but his oldest two sons, Howard and Eugene, became partners of their father in the 1950s and, much later, his youngest son Steve officially joined in 1983, although he had been working with the company for some time prior to that.
“Because Howard and Eugene were so close together in age, my dad could never decide which one to be the dealer,” Steve said, laughing.
The first major change for the business came in 1957, when the Hubers added the Pontiac and Buick car lines, New Holland farm equipment and some short lines of implements. A different kind of change came when Elthor moved to Stanley in 1959, where he operated a Chevrolet and Buick dealership of his own, eventually moving yet further and operating a dealership in Wadena, Minn.
In 1965, the original building saw an expansion with the addition of a 40 by 60 ft. showroom on the north side. Seven years later, that original building was itself largely replaced with a new steel building for the Hazen Motors repair shop.
The farm equipment was moved into a new building along the Highway 200 bypass in 1979 and the separate business became Hazen Motor Farm Equipment, a name it still bears.
More recently, the 1965 showroom was greatly expanded in 2013 and 2014, with a vibrant new look and a lot more space for displays. The last of the original repair shop was torn down during this remodel as well.
Steve said there have been lots of changes over the years as far as what models of vehicle people were looking for, from ‘57 classics and late 60s muscle cars to new models with an emphasis on special features ranging from automatic door locks to built-in mapping.
“One of the biggest changes over the year is that pick-ups are now like cars, some people use them as their family vehicle,” Steve said. “That didn’t used to be the case.” He also said the push toward SUVs meant a major change in vehicle inventory for Hazen Motors.
And more changes will happen in the future. Even now, the recent decision by Buick to pursue a future model based on electric cars will signify changes for companies like Hazen Motors that currently carry Buicks.
In the midst of these changes, both in vehicle models and in the business’s repair shop and showroom, Steve said one thing that has helped make these adjustments bearable is consistency in long-term employees.
“We’ve always been fortunate to have lots of long-term employees,” he said. Even this year, as they celebrate their 75th anniversary, several of Hazen Motor Company’s employees are looking at personal anniversaries in the 30s or even 40s of years of service.
“We’re a service-oriented business, and a lot of people come in here to do business because of that,” Steve said. “What it does is gives us a pretty strong, local base in Hazen and Beulah, and out even further.”
He said there are returning customers coming from as far out as Halliday and Garrison, and having loyalty from these customers is important, with markets needing to be bigger geographically in order to stay marketable as a dealership and a repair shop.
In recent years, one of the biggest challenges has been issues with shipping, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. Steve said a car dealership is like a puzzle, with lots of different pieces. If someone is waiting on repairs or waiting for their new vehicle to be built, it might be easy to get all but one or two of the pieces to complete that puzzle, but those one or two pieces can delay the process tremendously.
“I’ve noticed a lot of frustration from everybody, that’s the dealers and the sellers and the customers,” he said. “But all you can do is be patient. Everything is in motion all the time. So it’s tougher now than what it used to be. We don’t have the inventory that we had, it’s not a situation where everyone just goes in and picks up what they want right there in the lot.”
With these challenges and changes, Steve said the support of the Hazen community and the surrounding communities has been vital for Hazen Motor Company’s success, and will remain vital for whatever the future has in store for the company.
“You just do what you can,” he said. “Hazen Motor Company has provided a living for us and our employees for the past 75 years. And it’s been enjoyable.”
Steve said he finds Hazen a great place, both to live in and to work in, with the small town atmosphere, dedicated local employees and meaningful relationships with customers and residents.
“What I want is for Hazen to be able to continue to have a local dealership,” Steve said. “But it’s so hard to know what the future will look like. Right now, we’re pretty much the only small Chevy dealer in the western part of the state, and I hope we continue to fill that niche.”
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