Mike Motors to close

Dealership will continue to sell vehicles through May, play to stay open into July

Ely will lose its only car dealership, another apparent casualty of the coronavirus pandemic.
Owned by Hilligoss family, Mike Motors has been part of the community for over 75 years other than a stint in 2009 when it was closed.
Ten full-time jobs will be lost. Mike Motors has employed as many as 14 people in the past year before having to downsize.
The store is owned by Cindy Hilligoss of Hibbing, who took over ownership following the death of her husband Don Hilligoss in August of 2017.
The Hilligoss family owned the dealership in 1998 through 2004 and then repurchased the dealership in 2009 to keep the business going after the 2008 recession.
“It’s a bummer,” said Ely mayor Chuck Novak. “I attribute this to the workings of a car dealerships and the requirements forced on them are costly. The cars are maintenance free for quite a while which takes away from revenue in shops and margins aren’t there anymore.
“Plus the coronavirus definitely played into it as well. Everyone is at home and in Ely the layoffs have been horrendous up here, not just in our service industry but in the mining industry, those are good paying jobs and they’re not going to buy a car in an uncertain future.”
Charlie Hilligoss, the vice president of Mike Motors, attributes the closure to current economic conditions, increased costs, and uncertainty due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have operated the dealership through many difficult periods, and we have always tried to keep the dealership operating and employees working over many years,” said Hilligoss.
“Unfortunately, current economic conditions and uncertainty has forced ownership to make the difficult decision to close.
“The Hilligoss family would like to thank the Ely community for its loyal support of the dealership over the years.”
The Hilligoss family also owns Ranger GM and Ford of Hibbing along with Grand Rapids GM.
Mike Motors general manager Al Nap, with the company for eight years, said people will have to go to Cook or Virginia for warranty work.
Just that morning a new truck owner came in for warranty work after the first 500 miles. But he didn’t purchase the truck from Mike Motors.
“That’s just one more example of why we didn’t make it,” said Nap. “Even if we stick it out to the end whether it’s July or August, none of us know what we’re going to do.”
Two mechanics have already given notice after accepting jobs at a Virginia dealership.
The closing will affect multiple other local businesses from the Ely License Bureau to NAPA to the Ely Echo.
“Mike Motors was one of our best advertisers and after losing Shopko this is another financial loss that we’ll have a hard time making up,” said Ely Echo publisher Nick Wognum.
Employee Dan Ojala, 60, started with James Motors in June of 1981 before transferring to Mike Motors - he has worked in the business for 40 years.
“It is tough when you’re a dual franchise you need double the money to make that offset. It is the economy of the whole comparative to what it was even 20 years ago. And the internet has made it a completely different car buying experience,” said Ojala.
“In order to make the volume we really needed to be 40 plus units a month in sales. The service end was doing all it could and at full capacity but the whole overall numbers just never got to where they needed to be.
“We tried to service all the people we could but the whole automotive industry is driven off volume not how nice of a buying situation you provide. For customer satisfaction we were always running 96 to 99 percent but you just can’t make it with the volume compared to the other dealers. And it’s hard to make it in three months.”
Joe Hiller has been in sales at Mike Motors for over six years. His wife Leah has worked there for five years.
“I was shocked more than anything,” said Joe Hiller. “I’m going to miss my customers. I’m going to miss that family feel. I’m going to miss what we had here. There was a lot here internally because it’s like our second home.
“It’s been a staple in the community, it’s been here forever. I think people as a whole are going to miss it just the same because it’s like family. It was important to have this here in the community,” said Joe Hiller.
No formal closing date has been announced, but it is anticipated that the dealership will close near the end of July.
The store will continue with sales and service appointments, in accordance with current government regulations, as the dealership winds down operations.
During this time, Mike Motors will be open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon.
“The public is encouraged to come in to the dealership until the store has closed its doors for the last time,” said Hilligoss.
Mike Motors sells and services new Chevrolet, Buick, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and RAM vehicles as well as pre-owned vehicles.