When Ralph Bighouse opened the doors to Bighouse Automotive and U-Haul Dealership in 1954, it was located in a fairly affluent area. Over the years, the neighborhood’s complexion changed, and for a while it wasn’t the greatest area. Today, the neighborhood has been reinvigorated by a bustling mix of homes, coffeehouses, art galleries and other small businesses to become one of the most sought-after areas in Portland. Throughout all of this change, one constant has been Bighouse Automotive, which has been on the corner of NE Killingsworth Ave. and NE 30th Ave. for more than 60 years, offering superior customer service to everyone who stops by.
Bighouse became a U-Haul Dealer almost by accident. When he bought the location to set up the auto-repair business, there was a U-Haul trailer left on the lot. He called U-Haul to let the Company know about the trailer, and the response caught him off guard: Go ahead and rent it.
So, he rented the trailer to someone moving to Boise, Idaho, informing the customer to drop it at any service station when they arrived in Boise. That was the first of what would become countless U-Haul rentals for Bighouse, his wife, Marie, and their son, David, who now runs the family business. (Marie Bighouse passed away in 1998, and Ralph Bighouse passed away in 2005.)
The 60-Year U-Haul Dealer Club is an exclusive group, with only a handful of members, and David Bighouse is proud to be a part of it.
“Sixty years is a long time, obviously,” he emphasized. “It’s a heck of an accomplishment, and it’s kept me going. To watch U-Haul evolve from what it was in the early days to what it’s become today has been amazing. In my eyes, there’s no competition for U-Haul.”
David Bighouse grew up around U-Haul, and the business made a big impression on him at a very early age.
“When I was four or five years old, I was sleeping under the counter and saw people handing my dad money and thanking him at the same time,” David related. “I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a pretty cool concept.’”
He also saw how the businesses complemented each other.
“People would come in to drop off a one-way truck or trailer, and when they needed a place to get their oil changed, they’d come back for that,” he noted. “At times over the years, the auto-repair business has been slow, but the U-Haul business has always been there to pick up the slack. And the more U-Haul customers we have, the more opportunities we have for people to come back when they need their car worked on.”
The secret behind Bighouse Automotive’s longevity is the same as any other long-time U-Haul Dealership: exceptional customer service. It’s what people in Portland have come to expect—and received—anytime they’ve stopped by the location in northeast Portland.
“David has never met a stranger; every customer is a friend, in his eyes,” noted U-Haul Company of Western Oregon President Dave Scheafer, who has known David Bighouse for more than 30 years. “When a customer comes in to pick up a truck or have their car worked on, David will strike up a conversation about fishing or something. He’s very personable.
“He’s a huge part of the neighborhood,” Scheafer continued. “People there know him as Mr. U-Haul. If there’s ever an issue with U-Haul equipment or a reservation he’ll let us know, because he understands that, to people in the area he is U-Haul, and vice-versa. It’s a point of pride to have one of the oldest U-Haul Dealerships in our city.”
What’s the oldest “mom and pop” business you know of in your area? Tell us about it in the comments section.