Downtown Baraboo auto dealership celebrates 70 years
A downtown Baraboo auto business with a history of overcoming unforeseen challenges has turned 70.
On Monday, Kruse Motor Sales staff and community well-wishers gathered to celebrate the anniversary with a ceremonial ribbon-cutting. David Kruse advised against going overboard, as he figures his octogenarian father Fred Kruse and his business will see more anniversaries. “My dad will go on forever,” David Kruse said. “We’ll do this again in 10 years.”
Now a third-generation family businesses, the used car dealership and service shop on Broadway still is known to most locals as Kruse Oldsmobile. It was founded by Fred Kruse Sr., a former Oldsmobile regional manager who decided to start his own dealership in downtown Baraboo in April 1949. It started out where the business’ showroom and service area sit today.
The business suffered an unexpected blow in 1960, when its founder died of cancer at age 56. Fresh out of college and the U.S. Army, Fred Kruse Jr. took over. “We’ve had some good times and some scary times,” he said.
Four years later, he bought a gas station on the corner of Broadway and Fourth, which became the dealership’s entryway and parking lot. His sons David and Karll Kruse joined the family business, which encountered another challenge in 2000, when General Motors announced it would discontinue its Oldsmobile division by 2005.
What seemed an existential threat helped the family redirect the business’ focus. The Kruses stopped selling new cars, concentrating on used cars and service. They changed the name to Kruse Motor Sales. “We had time to think about what we were going to do,” Kruse said.
The Kruses weren’t sure they’d stay on Broadway in the late 1990s, when Sauk County bought adjacent property for construction of the West Square Building. The Kruses opted to stay rather than sell, and have developed a niche as the only auto shop on the square. “We’re really happy to stay downtown,” Karll Kruse said. “Being able to stay downtown has been a real benefit to us.”
The shop has been known to handle quick jobs without appointments for downtown workers and tourists alike. “We triage the ones who need to keep moving,” Fred Kruse said.
Over the decades he has seen vehicles run cleaner and diagnostic systems improve. What hasn’t changed is the independent dealership’s insistence on personal service. “Being a family business, I think we tend to treat people like family,” Karll Kruse said.