A longtime, family-owned truck repair shop — one of the first businesses along the Beltline frontage road — has closed, a victim of the effects of the recession and the drought.
Eggimann Truck Parts and Service, 1813 W. Beltline, shuttered operations last Friday, ending the jobs of 28 employees.
At the entrance to the showroom and shop on Monday, brown paper covered the glass front doors, and a sign read, "We are officially closed for business."
Steve Beecraft, vice president and chief executive officer, said a near-death experience five years ago, when he suffered a heart attack and had no pulse for 28 seconds, did not leave him as shaken as he was when he told workers the business was folding.
"Friday was, by far, the worst day of my life," Beecraft said.
Employees were taken by surprise. "We were all quite caught off-guard. None of us had really seen it coming," said Dennis Cordts, service manager. "(Business) seemed to be doing OK."
Beecraft's grandparents, Ernest and Helen Eggimann, started the company in 1945 at 834 S. Park St. When their business grew, they built along the Beltline in 1959, near Fish Hatchery Road. "We were the first building out there," Beecraft said. "The land all around us was farm fields."
Ernest Eggimann, a native of Switzerland, was known as much for his truck service as for his friendly manner, handing out all sorts of freebies to customers. A story in the State Journal in 1971 featured Eggimann, saying he gave away cases of cigars every year, as well as flashlights, pens and unusual gadgets.
Eggimann ran the business until he died in 1977.
As a boy, Beecraft often accompanied his grandfather, playing in the shop until he was old enough to work there. He spent years as a mechanic on the shop floor and took over as CEO from longtime employee Ronald Houser in 1992.
Focusing on heavy-duty truck repair, Eggimann's serviced dump trucks, semis and other big vehicles. Many customers were contractors, excavators and landscapers, Beecraft said. He opened a facility in Waukesha in 2005 and, at the height of business, had more than 50 employees at the two sites. Some workers had been there as long as 20 years; one started in 1979, as Beecraft did.
Cordts, the service manager, was just shy of 10 years at Eggimann's. "It was a fantastic place to work for, a great group of people," Cordts said.
He said workers took a pay cut several years ago, when business faltered. "Steve said, 'I want to keep you guys employed, and here's what we've got to do.' It was hard but he kept us employed," Cordts said.
But the recession sharply curtailed construction; diesel fuel prices rose; and competition from dealer networks such as Peterbilt and Kenworth cut into business. The Waukesha location closed after about four years. The drought was the final straw for the Madison shop.
"A lot of landscapers didn't plow any snow this year, and they didn't mow any grass. Our business just dropped off," Beecraft said. "After negative cash flow for four years, I can't support it anymore."
Beecraft's mother, Beverly Kucker, is majority shareholder.
Seven employees will stay on for about a month to finish truck repairs in progress. Workers who had vacation and sick days left will be paid for them over the next two weeks; there's no cash for severance, said Beecraft, 54, who will be out looking for a job along with his employees.
"The economy took a big chunk out of our business, and the drought probably finished us off," said Beecraft. "I grew up in that place. My entire life is there."
An auction will be held at a later date to sell the inventory.
Cordts lamented the demise of longtime, locally owned businesses such as Eggimann's, Thorstad Automotive last year, and Lane's Bakery, which will be closing soon. "It's a legacy that's gone by the way," he said.