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May 1, 2009

Grand Rapids Auto: The Owner

Christina Clusiau is a New York based photographer who has been returning to her hometown in Northern Minnesota to photograph and interview members and employees of Tom Clusiau Sales and Rental Service Inc. This is the second post of a BAGnewsOriginals series, Grand Rapids Auto, exploring the economic crisis through the life of this family-owned Chrysler dealership.

Her father Tom Clusiau, the owner, speaks about how he got involved in the business.

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I went to college with the life-long dream of becoming a corporate litigation attorney. Upon graduation, while I was waiting for a law school acceptance, my dad asked me to help out for a while in the dealership. Since my older brother was already working in the store, I thought it would be nice to stay together.

I liked the people part of the business and felt that a break from school would be good, and my high school sweetheart (now my wife of 32 years) was back in town, so I decided to give it a year.

It was kind of an accepted thing that you grew up in the business and lived the business for life. But I had never wanted to have anything to do with it as I watched my father struggle with his father and brother, as they were partners. I thought being in business together would affect our personal lives.

Well, it did! All we ever had in common was the company. Sunday dinners, Christmas, weddings, funerals, etc. was all about the business. It was very challenging and I must say, working with my dad and brother was not easy and we all broke up in 1990 when things were not good with us personally. We could not get along.

I decided I could do things much better on my own, using my skills, experience and ideas. We were still operating my grandfather’s way, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and my dad didn’t have any interest in listening to anyone else about how to come into the present era. So I purchased both my dad and my brother’s shares, worked my rear off and had success. After that first year, I never looked back. I love the auto business and almost everything that goes along with it. It is exciting, fast paced, people driven and I am good at it. Our community is great.

Today, my wife and I have my niece and her husband working with us, and it has worked out so far. But I have been reluctant to have either my son or daughter join us as we value our relationships with each of our children and do not want to chance having family issues again.

(images: Christina Clusiau, April 2009. See slide show captions for photo information)

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