A new auto repair shop has opened in North Grand Forks, and for owner Ray Lee, it’s been a long time coming.
Lee, a long-time parts and service manager for dealerships around town, opened his business, Thunder Ray’s Auto Repair, on Sept. 1, at 2315 N. Washington St. The repair shop focuses on general auto repair, but technicians also work on classic and muscle cars. Getting the repair shop off the ground took nearly eight months of business counseling, but Lee's lifelong love of cars began long before that.
“For a long time, I wanted to do my own thing and work on what I wanted to work on,” Lee told the Herald, on a Tuesday, Sept. 22, visit to the shop, where a 1955 Pontiac Star Chief sat parked before one of the shop’s three repair bays.
Growing up on the north end of town, Lee had a paper route that took him downtown to the Lyons Auto Supply building, on North Fourth Street. Owners John and Jim Lyons let him hang around and talk and learn about cars. They also took him to his first drag race in 1972.
“They’re kind of responsible for giving me the bug, I think,” Lee said, who now drag races a 1969 Camaro he rebuilt “from the ground up” in Sabin, Minnesota, to the southwest of Fargo.
Lee worked at a long-gone Dodge and Datsun dealership on Old Mill Road before spending lengthy tenures at Eide Hyundai -- called Eide Motors -- and Rydell Chevrolet. He last worked at Grand Forks Subaru, running the parts, service and reconditioning departments. There he worked with technicians Troy Eback and Mike Williams, who wanted to come with him when he started his own repair shop.
But first Lee needed to make a business plan and secure financing. He went to the Grand Forks SCORE chapter, in the Center For Innovation on UND’s campus.
“He came to us with the notion that he would like to do that, with not really much of a plan, other than he had a dream,” said Mike St. Onge, a mentor with SCORE.
St. Onge, formerly of Alerus, where he worked for 30 years, helped to refine Lee’s idea into a workable plan. From there, they worked with Nicole Evans, at the Small Business Development Center -- also in the Center for Innovation -- to run the numbers to work out financing.
Lee finally wound up at the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation, who presented his request for funding to the Grand Forks Growth Fund. The committee granted his request for a loan of over $15,500, which he combined with another loan from his credit union. He cashed in a 401(k) to use as his own equity stake. Lee credits SCORE and the other economic development organizations for helping him get so far.
“Anyone that wants to start a business, I think SCORE is the way to get in there and at least get your feet wet,” Lee told the Herald.
Thunder Ray’s has had busy and slow days since opening, but the 58-year-old Lee said he’s confident his customer base will grow, and he has no plans to stop working.
“I can't see myself ever retiring,” he said. “I just love the automotive business and love cars.”