By Kris Leonhardt
Car styles and models have come and gone through the decades, but the greater Marshfield area has been home to several longtime car dealerships. Among these is Gross Motors, which found its beginnings in Neillsville in the early 1950s after Clifford Gross came to the city as a livestock feed salesman.
Three years after arriving, Gross formed his first business with Jerry Anderson and began selling feeder pigs. After three years in the livestock business, Gross sold out to Anderson and turned his attention to automobiles.
Gross got into the automobile business by purchasing the LJ Chevrolet and Oldsmobile dealership with Dwayne Felser in 1956. Fel-Gross Chevrolet was located at 234 W. Sixth St. in Neillsville.
Gross sold vehicles while Felser tended to the service department. After one year together, Gross bought Fesler’s share and took sole ownership of the business.
Continuing his successful business venture, Gross constructed a new facility in 1966 on Neillsville’s East Division Street. The business then became Gross Chevrolet-Oldsmobile.
Gross ran the business until his death in 1976.
After Gross’ death, his wife, Alice, and sons Wayne and Jerry took over.
The Neillsville facilities expanded several times over the next two decades, later obtaining a Pontiac and Buick franchise and changing the name to Gross Motors.
In 1998 Gross Motors purchased Bauman Buick at 1620 N. Central Ave. in Marshfield and opened Gross Buick. Five years later, the company purchased Rush Pontiac-Buick-GMC in Black River Falls and opened Gross Pontiac-Buick-GMC, later constructing new facilities there.
Purchasing Jensen Motors in Spencer
Today, Gross Motors continues under the ownership of Wayne and Jerry Gross along with Wayne’s son Mike Gross.
With the recent purchase of Jensen Motors, a Ford dealership in Spencer, the company is not only expanding its business model but also filling a gap in a central Wisconsin service area.
“In order for us to sell Ford, you have to buy an existing franchise from someone else,” said Mike. “Ford has cut back the number of dealers quite a bit since 2008.”
“Really what we are going to do is we are going to move that store,” Mike said. “We own (the Laundromat next door in Neillsville), and we own the land behind it.
“A big part of why we ended up buying the Ford franchise from Brenda at Jensen’s is we are in what is called their ‘area of responsibility,’ so what happens when you buy the franchise is you buy that area. Neillsville is in the same area that she owned, so because of that, we had to get Ford’s approval, and they are the ones that liked the idea and pushed it forward because we will build a brand new facility here (in Neillsville). We will be right side by side. … We will have a whole new showroom, service, parts.”
A centralized Neillsville location made the new Ford showroom an appealing aspect for both Gross Motors and the Ford Motor Company.
“Where Jensen Motors is (in Spencer), if you go 12 miles north, there is Feddick Ford, and then you go a little farther, and there is Medford Motors, but then from Jensen you go I think 10 miles (south) to V&H, and then you keep going to Hughes, so there is all of these Ford dealers in a row,” explained Mike.
“But if you go west from there, you would have to go all of the way to Eau Claire, or you have to go all of the way to Osseo,” he added. “That is kind of what Ford liked about it, and they liked the idea of a new facility. … The hard part is pulling out of Spencer, but every time you look at it, it makes sense.”
“I never thought this would happen in my life, but we just were awarded a Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram franchise there (in Black River Falls),” Mike added. “When I told you that they are not giving out franchises, for some reason Chrysler decided to. I think they gave out five in the state of Wisconsin.
“Jan. 30, I got a call from Chrysler, and they said that they wanted to give us the Chrysler point in Black River Falls. It took about 10 seconds, and I said, ‘Yup, we’ll take it,’ … so we have to build a new facility there.”
When all work is completed, Gross Motors’ Marshfield branch will handle new Buick sales; the Neillsville location will sell new Chevrolets, Fords, and Buicks; and Black River Falls will deal in new Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, and Ram vehicles.
Gross Motors will maintain a presence in Spencer.
“Spencer is our market area no matter what. We are going to make sure that we continue to serve that Spencer market and the Spencer people moving forward,” Mike said.