By Jordan Gerard
Editor, The Caledonia Argus
A dealership once started by a local family in Caledonia will see their longtime business continue under new ownership.
Chuck and Audrey Ellingson, who have been in the automotive business for over 50 years, have operated the General Motors dealership in Caledonia for many decades.
On Thursday, March 26, Chuck Ellingson of Ellingson Motors sold to Sleepy Hollow Auto Group, based in Viroqua, Wisconsin. The new name in Caledonia will be Sleepy Hollow Chevrolet Buick, Inc.
It was not just the dealership that attracted owners LaVon “Spanky” and Michelle Felton to Caledonia, but it was the similarities they saw between Viroqua and Caledonia – both communities under a population of 5,000.
“It felt like home,” LaVon Felton said. “We were comfortable with this because it was very similar to what we did in Viroqua. The people have been overwhelmingly supportive and super nice.”
Sleepy Hollow will be adding inventory daily, stocking an “excellent selection” of new and used cars and trucks. Additionally, they’ll also sell heavy trucks, diesels, dump beds, flat beds and accessories.
On the service side, they plan to have a large selection of tires, add more services and allow a free alignment check at every visit.
Meet Sleepy Hollow
What once started as selling cars on Sleepy Hollow Dairy Farm on a road called Sleepy Hollow Lane in rural Viroqua in 1987 has blossomed into a large, local auto group offering new and used sales and a variety of services.
The Feltons moved the car lot to an old Citgo station on March 26, 1990 and sold their first car, exactly 30 years before they would purchase the Caledonia location. They sold their milk cows in 1992 and in 1995, built a small shop on Oct. 5, 1995.
Since then, the Feltons have grown their business with their two kids. Janie – a 2018 graduate from University of Wisconsin-Madison with a masters in public health – and Sawyer, who is a freshman at UW-Oshkosh, a musician and does a lot of the work planting corn and baling hay at the farm.
Michelle serves as the human resources director and manages the employees for all locations, including the new Caledonia spot. Felton will split his time between Caledonia and Viroqua.
“Michelle and I are both very involved in the dealership,” he said.
After a good establishment in Viroqua, they expanded their business on April 1, 2007 with the purchase of the GM dealership, the Dodge dealership in 2009 and then Ford dealership in 2013.
Now, they plan to fill Caledonia’s lot with more cars in the next few days and get through the coronavirus situation safely.
“We appreciate the warm welcome everyone has given us. We have met so many nice people,” he said. “We will be active in the community and will always support our schools and young people.”
In addition to helping Caledonia area residents stay mobile on four wheels, they also look forward to participating in events and supporting the community. The Feltons had tickets to an event at school before it was cancelled.
“We do a lot of community things. We always try to be part of the community in every way,” Felton said.
“Michelle and I plan to build on the Ellingson’s tradition of honesty, integrity and community. We both believe in ‘family first,’” he said. “I appreciate Chuck and Audrey and the many, many years of service they have.”
All current employees chose to stay with the dealership after it changed hands, and Felton said they were honored to have them.
The Kingston Street location will be remodeled with a few upgrades and new equipment over the next two weeks. Sales and service will be available through the remodel process.
Perhaps more exciting is the plan to expand by building a new dealership on Highway 44 within the next two years, which will add about 20-25 jobs.
Sleepy Hollow wants to bring another feature of their business to Caledonia: a high school automotive program.
Three years ago in conjunction with Western Technical College (WTC) and Wisconsin’s state automotive organization, Sleepy Hollow began introducing high school students to careers in the auto industry.
Sophomores can come and tour their facility to get a feel for what a typical day looks like. Juniors and seniors can learn hands on about auto mechanics and even earn six credits that will transfer to WTC after they graduate high school.
The free courses are taught in the evenings by Sleepy Hollow’s technician, who is also an accredited WTC instructor.
“You can never have enough mechanics,” Felton said. “We were building from the ground up and catching them when they’re young.”
Three years into the program and Felton has seen a difference.
“This jump start, along with scholarships we provide, help these kids learn a trade and hopefully we get a chance to hire them in two years when [they] graduate from WTC,” he said. “This program is now in many cities in Wisconsin, and we hope to also bring it to Minnesota.”
Sleepy Hollow is planning host a “grand opening party to remember” in Caledonia as soon as it is safe for everyone to gather together again.