During the recent months of the current economic crisis, many car dealers have had to close their doors. One dealership that has weathered this and several other difficult financial markets is also the country’s longest-lived family-owned vehicle retailer, W. Hare & Son. From the age of Conestoga wagons to the present and hybrid cars, this Indiana-based dealership has survived more than one and a half centuries of the ups and downs of continuous operation.
The saga began in 1847 when Wesley Hare started building wagons, carriages and buggies out of his log cabin in Noblesville, Indiana. His primary market was the steady stream of Americans heading west to California to pan for gold. All his vehicles came with a one-year warranty on his axles, wheels, and springs.
Hare’s business was booming. Within a short time, he added 45 employees and accumulated a small fortune.
Shortly after the Civil War ended in 1865, Hare’s son E.M. took over the business, and the company officially became W. Hare & Son. Operations moved into a four-story building complete with an elevator, a rare commodity for the time. Eventually the business churned out about 700 buggies annually.
Near the turn of the century, however, E.M. realized that the “horseless carriage” might have a future. Against the advice of his employees, Hare signed contracts with Hupmobile, Studebaker and Cadillac to sell a few of these motorized buggies. By 1912, these automobiles comprised most of his business.
Eventually six generations of Hares would manage the dealership. Each manager had his or her own unique challenges of business. For example, during the Great Depression, the dealer had to rely on its towing service to plump up the bottom line. When manufacturers ceased all automobile production during World War II, Hare had no cars to sell for three and a half years. Lube jobs and tune-ups filled in the gap.
Today, visitors to the Hare showroom can view a bit of the company’s history. The walls display a 90-foot long mural depicting the journey. Plus, the showroom also houses two Hare buggies built in the 1870’s.
The current managers, Courtney Cole and Monica Peck, who are the great-great-great granddaughters of Wesley Hare, have to keep up with current marketing trends. Currently Hare offers 50 service stalls, a photo booth for online ads, and about 1000 new Chevrolets in its sales lot. They sell about 300 cars per month and employ 150 people.
Whatever the future may hold, their place in history is secure. They head a list compiled by the National Automobile Dealers of U.S. dealers who have been in continuous business for 100 years or more. The list’s top ten include:
1847, W. Hare & Son, Inc., Noblesville, Indiana
1852, Schaefer & Bierlein, Inc., Frankenmuth, Michigan
1859, Reynolds’ Garage & Marine, Inc., Lyme, Connecticut
1875, Kemmann Chevrolet, Inc., Lowden, Iowa
1875, Normandin Chrysler/Jeep, San Jose, California
1885, Moser Motor Sales, Inc., Berne, Indiana
1895, Ferman Motor Car Co., Inc., Tampa, Florida
1897, Hill International Trucks, LLC, East Liverpool, Ohio
1898, Eich Motor Co., St. Cloud, Minnesota
1900, Diehl Ford, Inc., Bellingham, Washington