BAXTER — Dan Walton wasn’t ready to retire after he left his veterinary practice in Alaska but he was ready for a change.
The Minnesota native returned home and considered the next chapter of his life.
The Anoka-Osseo area resident practiced veterinary medicine for a few years in Minnesota after graduating from the University of Minnesota and ended up buying a practice in southeast Alaska.
He’d just spent 14 years building a high tech small-animal veterinary practice in Ketchikan where everything from record keeping to radiographs were in a digital format. Walton did a lot of laser surgeries, advanced orthopedics, advanced dentistry and soft-tissue specialty work. He was by himself for a decade before picking up two associates.
“Literally we were the practice, if your pet couldn’t be worked on in my practice, it had to go to a specialty center like in Seattle,” Walton said. He also helped organize the Ketchikan Humane Society to give animals another chance to find a welcoming home.
“I really loved doing surgery, especially the more advanced things, but it was a good time for me to move on.”
He retired from the practice but found the down time wasn’t right.
“I hated it,” he said and laughed as he walked through the showroom of gleaming motorcycles. “I can’t not be busy.”
Walton bought the Baxter Harley-Davidson dealership along with the one in Sauk Rapids from the Donahue family. The Baxter Harley-Davidson dealership opened in 2005.
“I was looking for a business in Minnesota and this sounded like it could be fun,” Walton said. “I didn’t do this solely to support my hobby, I really like being in business. I like the challenge.”
When Walton saw the trees coming down on the corner of Highway 371 and Pine Beach Road for the new Dondelinger auto dealership, he immediately saw an opportunity.
Next August, Walton expects to move his Harley-Davidson business from the shadow of Lake County Toyota off Highway 371 south to expansive frontage on Highway 210 on the vacated Dondelinger dealership. Walton will move from leased space into his own building. He’s looking forward to the possibilities.
The showroom floor will expand from display space for 12 new bikes to room for more than 40.
With that many
Harley-Davidsons, people stop in just to look at the bikes, have a cup of coffee and talk.
Viking Land’s current 8,000-square-foot showroom/service department is a combination of chrome and denim with motorcycles and accessories from a wide variety of clothing to helmets in a showroom with stylized photos and displays.
The move south will provide 20,000 square feet for the new store and a large parking area, which may be used for special events, demo riding and rider safety courses. Harley-Davidson brings in a demo trailer and people have the ability to ride any of the machines, including the trike. There are 31 models of the famed motorcycle and a lot of accessories and options to personalize machines.
“It’s probably the most accessories product known to man,” Walton said.
Moving a Harley-Davidson dealership isn’t a simple task. The 110-year-old company, a motorcycle icon, has three store designers it works with — one in New York, one in California and one in Kentucky.
The one in Kentucky has already made a site visit to Baxter. Walton had a bit of a sales job in convincing Harley-Davidson that moving off Highway 371 provided more opportunities.
“The visibility there is going to be a really big plus for us,” Walton said of the 700-feet of frontage with the current Dondelinger auto dealership. And, Walton said, it will be easier for customers to find and access the Harley-Davidson shop with the move. The service department will expand in the move along with room for parts and accessories.
There are specific requirements for the dealership, right down to the amount of light shining on the machines. Now in it’s 110th year, with a major celebration planned, Walton said the products have never been as good as they are now with sales increasing.
The motorcycles range in price from less than $10,000 on up. Walton said some of the best selling Harleys are in the low to mid-$20,000s.
In Baxter, Walton said they have a key asset in tremendous employees they’ve been blessed to retain.
At the peak of the season, the store employs 35 and expects that number to grow in the new location. Nearly everything will grow from the number of bikes to the merchandise.
Walton said he enjoyed working with the Dondelingers on the purchase and found them to be enthusiastic about the motorcycles.
Being in the Brainerd lakes area afforded Walton a chance to be closer to his grandchildren and his folks, who live in the Nevis area. His wife’s family is still in Anoka. His son, Seth, is the general manager and works in the Sauk Rapids store while Walton splits time between the two locations.
“This is such a good community,” Walton said of the lakes area, saying there are quality, hard-working people here and Minnesota Nice is alive and well. “It is really a good place to be invested and I don’t just mean your money, but in your time and your effort.”