TONASKET – In September of 1973, Leonard Hedlund made the best move of his life.
That was when he bought what was to become Hedlund Chevrolet, from Bynum and Gene Robins of Oroville.
“I wanted to live on the east side of the mountains,” Hedlund said. “I was an electrical contractor in Kent and I wanted to get out of the area.”
He said he chased down an ad for a dealership in Republic, but that another man was already interested. He was told Bynum Robins wanted to get out of the business.
“So I went to Tonasket, got to talking with him and bought it,” Hedlund said. “That was the greatest move of my life. The people have been wonderful; I’ve gotten a lot out of the dealership and I hope I’ve given a lot back.”
In 1978, Hedlund bought the old Ford garage and moved his dealership from the building where Grant’s Market is now into its current location. He said he loved the dealership.
“I truly love the business and the people,” Hedlund said. “Like all businesses, there are things you don’t like about it, but overall, I don’t think there was a day I didn’t want to go to work. If you talk to any of the employees, you’ll hear I didn’t work; I was the social director and the P.R. person. I always said if they knew what my job was, they’d fire me.”
Over his nearly 36 years with his dealership, Hedlund said there weren’t too many hard times because Okanogan County is so constant.
“The nice thing about Okanogan County is it never booms and never busts, it runs at its own levels,” Hedlund said. “Bigger cities boom and bust. Like right now, car dealerships are going through a rough time, but in Okanogan County, it doesn’t seem to affect them.”
He said one hard time was during the first years of owning Hedlund Chevrolet. This was during the first gas crunch.
“Over on the coast, they had huge gas lines and stations ran out of gas, but here, a lot of our gas came from Canada, so we never had a shortage,” Hedlund said. “I was lucky again. The toughest time started in 1980, but in 1981, the interest rates got up to 20 and 21 percent. It was nearly impossible to sell a car because no one can afford that interest.”
Due to these interest rates, Hedlund said he terminated his Chevy franchise in August of ’81. He leased the shop portion of the business to George Hill but kept the other part of the building and sold used cars. In July of ’83, Hedlund got his franchise back. He said that other than the $4.50 per gallon gas prices last year, there haven’t really been any other hard times. Hedlund said fuel prices and interest rates were the only things that ever bothered his dealership.
He said he stuck with the car dealership business so long because he really enjoyed the people.
“Our employees were mostly long-standing,” Hedlund added. “We have a few ex-employees who went into business for themselves. We’re all still friends because we don’t burn any bridges. I enjoyed our customers, too. Our customer base covered a large area. People from Omak, Okanogan, Oroville, Chesaw, Republic and Methow all seemed to come here. I seemed to have a large area to draw from. I tried to make them happy.”
Over his years of business in Tonasket, Hedlund said he tried to keep the dealership involved with everything that came to them.
“It’s impossible to list all of the donations we made, but all of the schools, fairs, Commancheros and rodeo clubs that came to us, it didn’t matter what the cause was, they supported us so we supported them,” he added.
Now that he’s retired, Hedlund said he plans to play golf and keep up with his grandchildren. He has 11 grandchildren and three step-grandchildren. He said the oldest will be 28 in November and the youngest is 11.
“We’re going to our grandson’s baseball tournament in Idaho,” Hedlund said.
“We also have a grandson, Lee Leavell, who’s doing really well in tennis so we’re following him,” Donna Hedlund, Leonard’s wife, said.
They have been married since 1981 and he said they met when he moved to Tonasket.
Hedlund said he also plans to travel during his retirement.
“I haven’t been all over the world and I think there are a few states we haven’t been to, but there’s still no place like home,” he said. “I’ve never found any place I’d rather live.”
Hedlund said that from all of his years in business, he’s learned that the customer isn’t always right but that all you can do is let the customer believe they’re right. He said the best advice he has for businesspeople would be to be friendly.
“Basically, you do have to be friendly,” Hedlund said. “You can’t be chippy or bitter. You spend a lot of money advertising to get people through your door and yet it’s so easy to chase them back out with unfriendly words. You’ve got to be as nice and friendly and comfortable as possible. Really try to believe the customer is right, even though they’re not all right.”
Hedlund said he will miss his morning at the dealership most in his retirement.
“I’ve gotten up every morning at 6 a.m. and I’m at work by 6:30,” he said. “I make the coffee, get the lights on and the radio. I would have people come in and have coffee with me. At 7:30, I would take my walk. The new owner said I didn’t have to turn in my key and I still go in and make coffee. As long as I can do that, I think I’ll survive this retirement.
“Without that,” he continued. “I told Donna I was going to rent an office building downtown with a bathroom and coffee pot. I’d call it BS Headquarters and people could still come and have coffee with me.”
Hedlund said that he thinks he’s like George Burns in that he’d like to be 18 again.
“I’d like to do it all over, it’s been a great ride,” Hedlund said. “I have to thank the people that made it all happen. I really didn’t do anything.”