The sign is gone

The sign is down, the lots are getting empty and the doors are locked at LaGrange Country Dodge.

LAGRANGE — LaGrange Country Dodge, the last Big Three car and truck dealership still operating in LaGrange County, has closed its doors.

A spokesman, who refused to be identified, met several people at the door of the business May 21 and told them that the Dodge dealership is now permanently closed.

The dealership, located just off S.R. 9 on the north edge of LaGrange, typically carried a large collection of used cars and trucks on a gravel lot just south of the dealership. But all those vehicles, as well as the bulk of the new car and truck inventory that sat in front of the building were moved off the lot several weeks ago. Only a handful of new cars and trucks remain on the lot. The lighted Dodge dealership sign that stood at the entrance to the property also has been removed.

The week of May 11, a small paper sign in the door of the dealership said the business had been shut down due to COVID-19 but that it would reopen May 15. That sign has since been taken down.

The company’s website also has been taken down, and its phones are no longer in operation.

LaGrange Town Manager Mark Eagleson said the first indications the town received that the business might close down came earlier this year when the dealership told the town it could no longer perform any sort of warranty work on several of the town’s police cars purchased through the dealership. Those vehicles had to be driven to the Dodge dealership in Auburn for service.

According to public records filed with the Indiana Secretary of State, the dealership was owned by the Wickstrom Automotive Group, of Battle Creek, Michigan, with Arliss Wickstrom as president. The property is owned by the TIA Corporation, also of Battle Creek. Phone calls placed to members of the automotive group have not been returned.

The dealership was started in the 1960s as LaGrange County Dodge, owned by the Helmkamp family. The original dealership was located in downtown LaGrange. In 1971, owner Don Helmkamp built a new dealership building just north of LaGrange and successfully operated an auto dealership at that location for another 45 years.

Throughout the years, the Helmkamps played a significant role in the community, hosting an annual toy drive that helped replenish the shelves at the Clothes and Food Basket of LaGrange County’s Christmas Bureau. They also hosted an annual car wash in partnership with the Lakeland varsity football team.

The Helmkamps sold the dealership to the Wickstrom Automotive Group in 2016.

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