BAXTER - Just as Labor Day weekend traffic was flowing heavily past the Denny Hecker Toyota dealership in Baxter, there wasn't a soul visible inside the building Friday afternoon.
The office space inside the display area and the service bays looked tidy and vacant, looking in from the outside. Office hours at the dealership on Highway 371 North indicated the business was open until 5 p.m., but the doors were locked shut hours before the business day ended.
The sole person visible on the lot was an Avalon Security Guard who identified himself as Dillon Seman.
Seman said his first shift at the auto dealer began on Thursday night. His orders were to not let a single vehicle off the lot and not to let anyone inside the building. The exception would be if there was an OK from a short list of people.
Seman left his vehicle to turn away a customer, who had driven up to one of the cavernous service bays. He gave the customer the same response. He didn't know the particulars, but no one was being allowed inside. The driver slowly backed his car away from the big service door.
The fate of the Baxter dealership has been up in the air for some time since Hecker's slide into financial ruin. Hecker went from high visibility in the state with his former auto empire to a bankrupt Denny Hecker Automotive Group. The business started to fall apart late last year. Hecker closed or sold 25 of his 26 dealerships, making the Toyota/Scion business in Baxter his only remaining dealership. Dondelinger Chevrolet-Cadillac bought Hecker's Brainerd Hyundai dealership, entering a sales agreement in April.
Hecker was sued by business arms of several automakers for hundreds of millions of dollars. In June, the State Patrol searched his property, including his home on Cross Lake during a criminal investigation after authorities reported receiving complaints from dozens of customers in 15 Minnesota counties. Those customers said they didn't receive titles or license plates for vehicles they purchased or found liens weren't paid on vehicles they traded in.
Hecker filed for personal bankruptcy protection in June, saying he owes up to $1 billion to up to 1,000 creditors.
Under Hecker's ownership, the Toyota and Hyundai dealerships in Brainerd and Baxter struggled, with the company at times unable to make payroll or fund its health insurance plan. Suitors have been rumored for the Baxter dealership without definitive word on a potential future buyer.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.
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