Olde’s nears 100 in Evergreen
Evergreen, Colo.—If your last name is Olde or Porter, and you live in Evergreen, chances are your first job was at Olde’s Garage when you turned 13. This right of passage is part of the rich automotive history and entrepreneurial spirit that surrounds the family that founded Olde’s Garage in 1921, one of Evergreen’s original businesses, and most certainly the longest running one.
Manager Monty Porter, 36, represents the fourth generation to work in the family business under the guidance of his mother, Kate Porter (nee Olde), who manages the shop’s finances. “Just as all the women in the family did before,” she says. Brother Rick Olde serves as the shop’s vice president. Grandfather and nonagenarian, Gerry Olde, 93, still drives himself to the shop regularly to check in on things and visit with family and customers. The business was founded by his father, Herman Olde.
The family recently met with Parts & People, taking a drive down memory lane, recalling the shop’s humble beginnings as a full-service fuel supplier and general goods store in the ’20s to what it is today, 96 years later.
Evergreen General Store
“We were only one of five places that stayed open in Evergreen during the winter in the ’20s,” Olde said. Aside from the year round ranchers in the area and its 200 residents, Evergreen was a summer vacation area for people living along the Front Range and surrounding Eastern states.
Wealthy tourists came to stay in the Troutdale-In-The-Pines hotel for many decades in Bear Creek Canyon, one of the finest resorts of its day, Olde said, adding that there were many attempts to repurpose and restore it, but it was eventually torn down in the early ’90s.
As people drove up two-lane Bear Creek Road to Evergreen in their Model T Fords, Chevrolet Superior Roadsters, and Dodge Fast Fours, the Olde family repaired them, sold fuel, general goods, sporting apparel, fishing licenses, and more.
The construction of I-40 in 1926, then I-70 in 1972, brought increasing amounts of traffic through Evergreen, he said, brining in more customers.
Highway construction also enabled people to live in subdivisions of Evergreen and commute to work in Denver, causing the population to increase.
The family eventually outgrew their original location in downtown Evergreen and relocated in 1961 to 3639 Evergreen Parkway, originally a bulk fuel storage location for the business.
Operating as a Texaco distributor for 81 years, the family also owned a separate gas station next to the shop, but sold it a few years ago.
Third and fourth generations at helm
“We all grew up in the garage,” Kate Porter said, adding that she enjoys working with and seeing her son, Monty, every day.
“They paid more for a machine than it cost me to buy the lot and building,” Olde joked, referring to a recent Snap-on scan tool his grandson purchased.
Although the technology and methods for repairing vehicles has changed drastically, one factor transcends the decades and keeps the business model viable, he said, “The car is a necessity in the mountains.”
“Monty is a throw back to a ‘do everything’ guy,” Olde said of his grandson. “He learns more and works harder than anybody.”
“I’ve been in the business my whole life, so it’s like second nature to me,” Monty Porter said. “But to look back, it’s amazing to see how far it’s come.”
“We give the techs a lot of freedom,” Monty Porter said. “I like the tech to have a relationship with the customer.”
Rather than having service advisors, he said, each of the four A-line technicians fields phone calls, writes quotes, orders parts, completes the repair, and delivers the car to their customer.
This creates complete transparency and a direct line of communication to the customer, Porter said.
“Mechanics will stay 20 to 25 years,” Kate Porter said, “they seem to be happy and enjoy how we do business. It gives them more flexibility with their hours and freedom to schedule their own jobs.”
Evergreen’s proximity to Denver makes Western Automotive Warehouse Distributors (WAWD) of west Denver a hotshot delivery away for parts, Monty Porter said, adding that they also rely CARQUEST and NAPA for parts. American Tire Distributors (ATD) also makes daily deliveries from Denver for any tires their customers need.
Olde pointed out that when he was operating the shop, they had to function as their own parts store, with everything they needed on hand, including tires and most parts. Traveling parts salesmen would actually buy inventory from Olde’s, he added.
Considered a severe-duty driving climate, Evergreen motorists know the value of having a reliable 4WD or all-wheel-drive vehicle, Monty Porter said, adding that Jeeps and Subarus are frequently found in their bays.
When people slide around and hit objects, undercar components, such as CV axles, wheel bearings and suspension get damaged, he said. Given the steep grades, properly functioning brakes are also very important for mountain driving, he added.
“More than anything, I want to see the business turn 100 years old and have things run relatively the same way as they have the last 96 years,” said Porter, whose wife recently had their daughter, Valerie, named after her great, great grandmother.