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Stearns Motors Stories - Lou Stearns was the owner of Stearns Motors. In its day Stearns Motors was an automobile repair shop and also a garage to park and store automobiles. There were actually five businesses in Strearns Motors. The Auto Repair, the Auto Storage Business, a soft drink bottling and wholesale business, a beer and wine wholesale business, and apartment rentals.
Lou Stearns was reported to have been a generous man. If someone he knew came to him and was down on their luck he would give them a five dollar bill. In those days that was a decent sum of money.
Girlfriend’s Car to Minneapolis – One story says that the significant other of Lou Stearns was going to Minneapolis for shopping and other activities. Since she was taking the train to the Twin Cities, Lou also booked passage for her car (a Cadillac I believe) on a flatbed rail car on the same train. When she arrived in Minneapolis, her car was unloaded for her to use while there. When she returned to Minot, the car did also.
The Auto Repair Business – Jack Foley was the Service Manager of the automobile repair shop affiliated with Stears Motors. At one time there was a gas station in front of the building. The gas station was on the southwest corner of the intersection of 2nd Street and Central Avenue. In those days there was a ramp that went west from Central Avenue down to the Great Northern Depot. One day a minister pulled up and was having his car filled with gas. He jokingly told Jack to charge the gas to the Lord. Jack replied without batting an eye, “Send him down to sign for it and I will.”
The Auto Storage and Parking Business – One of the main parts of the operations at Stearns Motors was the parking and automobile storage. Stearns Motors was at the north end of Minot’s infamous High Third Street. This area of Minot was known for its after-hour bars, houses of prostitution, gambling rooms, and at one time, opium dens. Many of the prostitutes would rotate in and out of Minot about every two to four weeks. Some arrived by train, some by bus and some by automobile. Many of those arriving by car were brought to Minot in large, fancy vehicles owned by their pimps. While the car was in town, it was probably stored inside at Stearns Motors
The Beer & Wine Wholesale Business – Office Mgr. Mel Herre 1947-1957
Bill Langer was instrumental in helping Lou Stearns in getting his license to start his wholesale business, Minot Beverage Company. According to one of his past office managers, part of the deal was that Langer received a payment of 5 cents for every bottle of beer or wine distributed. However, the checks were always sent to a judge in New York rather than to Langer. One would suppose that the money eventually reached him.
The Soft Drink Business – The soft drink business started in the Stearns Motors building as part of Minot Beverage Company. My understanding is that at one time there was a bottling operation in the basement of Stearns Motors. This was eventually moved to South Broadway and became Northern Bottling Company, which is still in business today.
The Apartment Rental Business – There were three apartments on the top floor of Stearns Motors. Lou Stearns lived in the largest one with his girlfriend, Florence Brown. Lou and Florence had a turbulent relationship. At one time they were going to be married in Minneapolis, but by the time they arrived on the train, they had a terrible disagreement and fight. Both returned to Minot, but on separate trains. There is a story that whenever Florence would go Minneapolis, Lou would load a car on a flatbed rail car and send it to her destination so she would have something to drive.
The Secret Room – The night foreman at Stearns relayed this story of the secret room. As night foreman he would take care of the cars that came in for parking while the owners went to shows and other entertainment. After all, in those days, everything happened Uptown. He had a small office by the entryway to the basement that enabled him to collect the money and park the cars outside. One night he discovered loose bricks in the wall, so he dug them out and soon had an opening. He then moved a kitchen cabinet over the hole. He mixed the dirt with sand and gravel that dropped from the cars when ice and snow melted. The next morning when the floor was swept, it all went into the garbage. He did this every night and soon created his secret room. He kept his refreshments for his side business in the secret room.