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Shipman Auto Parts will soon celebrate 80 years in business

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In 1935, Charlie Shipman opened a used auto parts store on Oak Street in Brainerd, aptly named Oak Street Auto Parts.

Nearly 80 years later, Shipman Auto Parts continues to thrive under third-generation ownership by the Shipman family, providing used auto parts for customers throughout Minnesota and customers throughout the United States every day.

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The used auto parts industry has changed considerably since 1935, especially with the emergence of the Internet. Shipman Auto Parts has continued to adapt to meet the needs of the changing marketplace.

Marv Shipman, Charlie’s son, left Brainerd in 1942 to serve his country during World War II. He returned in 1945, and one year later his dad died of leukemia. Charlie was only 49.

Marv took over the auto parts business, which moved in 1957 to its current location on 13th Street Southeast, just north of the Crow Wing County Fairgrounds. The business’ name was then changed to Shipman Auto Parts and Welding.

Marv and his brother, Dan Shipman, ran the business until they separated the auto parts and welding operations in 1979. Dan moved the welding business farther down 13th Street Southeast so both businesses could expand.

In 1998, Marv’s son, Dan Shipman, and former son-in-law, Glen Knowlen, became co-owners of the business, although Marv continued to be involved with Shipman Auto Parts until he died in 2002.

Today Dan Shipman’s sons, Luke and Adam Shipman, work there, too, and may someday become the fourth generation of Shipmans operating the business, which celebrates its 80th anniversary in 2015.

Knowlen began working at Shipman Auto Parts in 1970. Back then, the company had a telephone hotline, described as a small squawk box that would allow salvage yards in Minnesota and Iowa to ask for and respond to requests for various used parts. The hotline would be on all day long in the office, much like a radio.

Times have changed. Today, Knowlen bids on live car auctions on the Internet. The vehicles are then transported to the company, typically arriving from the Twin Cities, and disassembled by employees. All auto parts are quality tested, inventoried and then listed on their extensive inventory list on the company website, www.shipmanauto.com. The company offers a 90-day warranty on its used auto parts.

Shipman Auto Parts has been selling used auto parts online since 1997, but in 2013 the company underwent a major computer upgrade, allowing it to increase sales by offering auto parts for sale on eBay and other Internet websites.

While many businesses suffered during the 2008 Great Recession, Shipman Auto Parts continued to grow, a direct result of the poor economy. People weren’t purchasing as many new cars and instead were fixing up the vehicles they owned.

“The recession helped us,” said Knowlen. “We were one of the few that it helped. People realize how much they can save by buying used parts.”

Internet sales have helped grow the business; about 40 percent of the business is through online customers and used auto parts are shipped daily throughout the United States.

Knowlen said when he started in 1970, Shipman Auto Parts had four employees. Today there are 14 full-time employees.

When Charlie Shipman ran the business, he had about 100 vehicles on hand for parts, said Dan Shipman. Today the business typically has about 1,200 vehicles in stock at all times on the 13 acres behind the property, with thousands of used auto parts located on warehouse shelves and on the property. They also sell new after-market auto parts. The company also has been a direct distributor for Western snow plows since 1970.

Shipman Auto Parts purchases used vehicles for parts every day; last year the business bought more than 1,000 vehicles to keep up the inventory, said Knowlen. Vehicles that have been thoroughly salvaged are then transported to nearby Crow Wing Recycling where they are crushed and recycled, he said.

The business is not a junkyard, but an automotive recycling facility. Knowlen said the company works hard to adhere to environmental rules and regulations. The company is a member of the Automotive Recyclers of Minnesota and Automotive Recyclers of America.

The company is involved in the Brainerd community and donates to many local charities and service organizations each year. It also gives away hundreds of hats with the company logo on them to their customers each year in appreciation for their support.

The building is a former airport and the main road leading through the salvage yard is the former main runway, said Knowlen. Last year the company invested in new signage for the business.

Dan said he found paperwork in the attic from the early days when his father, Marv, ran the family business. His father would hold personal items, like watches, from customers who didn’t have the money as collateral for used parts. He attributes the success and longevity of the company to a lot of hard work, honesty and the belief in treating people fairly.

“As long as there are automobiles out there, there will be a demand for used parts,” said Knowlen.

Jodie Tweed, a former Brainerd Dispatch reporter, is a freelance writer who contributes stories for several regional and national publications and writes blog posts and web content for clients throughout the country. She and her husband and their three daughters live in Pequot Lakes.

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