By the looks of it, no one would have known Wednesday, Dec. 19 was Standard on the Corner’s last day of business in downtown North Branch.
Owners Mike and brother Randy Preisler hustled from one car and call to the next, as has been the norm for the little but trusty auto repair shop for the past 31 years. Perhaps the biggest tip-off the business was coming to an end: the “For Sale” signs posted on both sides of the building that face both Main Street and Hwy. 61 at the busiest intersection in town.
On that last day, with a customer patiently waiting for his car to be ready, Mike Preisler said the time to retire had come. “My knees,” he specified as the main reason.
This while he barely looked up from the task at hand, one of his last in the shop’s garage.
The Preisler brothers ran and owned Standard on the Corner for 31 years. They purchased the business, 6339 Main Street, from Gary Schafer in May 1981.
The Standard name has been a solid one over much of the last century from the same corner in downtown North Branch. The location previously housed the old mercantile, a 300-seat opera house, theater or performing arts place until it burned down in the early 1930s, Mike said.
And they’ve had to keep up with advances in the automobile industry, which now heavily relies on computer systems. “In the old days, it would take an hour and a half to replace an engine,” Mike recalled. “Now there’s so much electronics. Even tires have changed.”
Yet the auto repair business was a rewarding career for Mike. He enjoyed the people and the work that kept customers and their families mobile and safe on the road.
“We’ve served many loyal customers, many generations of the same family,” he explained. “They have been like family over the years. I was never bored there.”
A career spent on Main Street
Mike spent his entire career on Main Street in North Branch.
In 1958, his dad bought the old Phillips 66 station — directly across the street from Standard, where Pizza Hut sits today. His father purchased the business from Ellis Johnson, former mayor of North Branch.
“My brother and I would clean toilets there for a quarter a day at 5:30 in the morning. Then we’d hike to school when we were done,” Mike chuckled.
School was a different experience for generations past. As opposed to the current three-school layout, the Main Street School was a kindergarten through 12th grade building as many including the Preisler brothers fondly remember. Mike graduated in 1967, and Randy in ‘66.
In 1965, Mike and Randy began helping out at their dad’s shop. They pumped gas, changed oil and did minor repairs while learning the importance of customer service. The job allowed them to work their way through college.
The brothers attended St. Cloud State where Mike graduated with a degree in biology, with minors in earth science and anthropology, in 1972. He wanted to be a high school teacher, but upon graduation, there were about 5,000 applicants for every biology job in Minnesota.
“At that point, I was making more money and stayed at the (auto) shop in North Branch,” he noted.
As for Randy, his college years were cut short due to being drafted and serving stateside with the National Guard out of Pine City. Afterward, he, too, went back to the shop.
From 1975-80, the brothers worked winters at Shell Oil, where Kath Oil is now, in North Branch. In the summers, they attempted to build a resort in Red Lake, Ontario. While they did complete three cabins for themselves, they were not able to obtain the residency needed to run a resort in Canada.
They also worked three years for their father at his Hardware Hank store, which is now Main Street Hardware, on 7th Avenue. He sold the Phillips 66 station and kept the hardware store, explained Mike, who helped his father with such jobs as repairing chainsaws.
It was around this time Mike and Mary got married and started to raise a family at home between Rush City and Harris. Ben, now 30, Amanda, 28, and Nick, 26, all went to Rush City schools. Randy ended up moving to Minneapolis where he and wife Merry now live.
Indeed, Standard on the Corner served Mike and Randy Preisler well. Yet the job wore on their bodies, with Mike about to have his knee surgically replaced. So the brothers agreed the time had come to close up shop and put it up for sale.
“It’s sad to say goodbye, but I‘m ready for a new chapter,” said Mike, whose hobbies include gardening, wood working and raising different kinds of trees on his land.
But don’t be surprised if his next chapter involves another run in the auto repair industry, somewhere, once his health recovers.