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Bernard's Northtown car dealership sings an optimistic tune

Bernard's collected toys Dec. 13 to donate to the Food Shelf/Love Baskets. Children were invited to pet a mother and baby pony before heading inside to decorate cookies, participate in a coloring contest, make a craft, enjoy refreshments and have their pictures taken with Santa Claus. Photos by Julia Ybarra-Young

Bernard's Northtown car dealership celebrated its 75th anniversary of doing business on Saturday, amid all the national publicity about a possible federal rescue plan for the "Big Three" automakers.

Despite the gloomy news in the car industry, owner Dave Olson said he's excited about his dealership's future as much as he's celebrating its past.

The Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep dealership has survived many tough times over the years, he's quick to point out.

Olson's father, Bernard, sold his first car in 1933 during the Depression. The business also operated through the World War II years, when no new cars were being manufactured.

"I'm a total optimist," Dave Olson said. "I let my cup stay half full, never half empty. I don't let any of this stuff get me down."

Olson said car dealerships in rural areas are faring much better than their big-city neighbors. There are too many dealerships in many large metropolitan areas, like the Twin Cities, and it's likely that some will have to shut down as the industry scales back and re-organizes, Olson said.

"We're not seeing the effects that the major metro areas are," he said. "We've been relatively busy and our business is fine. After 75 years of doing business, you develop a pretty loyal customer base and they keep coming back."

Had he been worried about the economic impact on his dealership, Olson said he wouldn't have pushed ahead with a major remodeling project earlier this year.

"I would have never spent that kind of money if I didn't think we were going to be around in the future," he said. "We're going to be around, as is Ford, as is General Motors."

New Richmond car buyers are actually pretty fortunate, Olson said. They have three strong dealerships to choose from when buying a new vehicle, and all of them have been around for more than 70 years, he said.

"That's very unusual," he said. "All of our dealerships are very good and have loyal customers."

Across the highway at Cox Motor Sales, fewer cars are being sold these days but there's no panic.

"The last few years have been slow," said Brian Cox, owner of Cox Motor Sales. "But things are going to turn around. We may not have hit rock bottom yet, but by 2010 I think we should be good to go."

Cox Motors, a Ford dealership, said that Ford Motor Company is in a good position to weather the economic storm.

He's also convinced that Ford dealerships will continue to operate as they have, which may not be the case for dealers carrying other vehicle brands.

"There are some who don't know if they will be able to keep their dealerships," he said. "We don't have those issues here."

Mick Anderson, owner of Johnson Motor Sales, could not be reached for comment prior to presstime.