There was a lot to celebrate at the May 6 grand opening of the new Sleepy Hollow Ford dealership in Viroqua. It was a celebration of one of the community’s key employers, now an anchor tenant in the new Viroqua Business Park off Highway 14 on the city’s north side. It also heralded the successful collaboration between Vernon Electric Cooperative and Sleepy Hollow, along with city, county, and state organizations.
“This really is about the partnerships between a lot of people to make great things happen,” noted Sleepy Hollow founder and owner LaVon “Spanky” Felton.
Those partnerships resulted in not only the development of the 50-acre business park but also the innovative energy-sustainable design of Sleepy Hollow’s newest structure. Included in that design are rooftop solar panels that can annually offset up to 100% of the energy needs for the dealership and an electric vehicle charging station.
Under a canopy with the words “CHARGE Powered by Co-ops,” the charging station is the first of its kind in the state. The 50-kilowatt DC, Level 3 charging units can charge a car in 30-45 minutes at a cost of approximately $10–$20 per charge. Vernon Electric Cooperative is a founding member of CHARGE EV, LLC, a Midwestern charging network made up of 29 electric cooperatives with a goal of advancing electric vehicle charging capability throughout the Midwest with a focus on rural areas. Currently, CHARGE EV has grown to nearly 100 electric cooperatives across the country.
The EV (Electric Vehicle) charging infrastructure at Sleepy Hollow came about after Vernon Electric Cooperative CEO & General Manager Craig Buros connected with Felton and discussions evolved on the future of electric vehicles and infrastructure needed to support it. Combining the expertise of the cooperatives on EV charging and the ingenuity of Felton, this partnership has developed one of the most innovative charging stations you will find anywhere.
“I have to give Craig Buros all the credit in the world,” said Felton. “He has great vision.”
Sleepy Hollow is also visionary when it comes to electric vehicles. The auto dealer sells and services electric vehicles and has 12 electric cars in its rental program. The addition of the charging station goes one step further for Felton, expanding access to electric vehicle charging for his customers and others.
“If it wasn’t for electric cooperatives coming together to pool their resources to create and develop CHARGE EV, LLC, and local business partners like Felton, our rural areas would get left behind as the electric vehicle infrastructure and network grows. If we want folks to be able to come through or visit our area in their electric vehicles, we’re going to have to have the infrastructure to accommodate them, or they won’t come”, Buros said.
“Now, if folks want to drive their EV from Madison to La Crosse, they can come through Viroqua instead of taking the longer route using the interstate and feel comfortable knowing that they have places to charge their EV if they need to. I would like to give a big thank you to Sleepy Hollow, Dairyland Power, and our cooperative partnership with Richland Electric and their CEO, Shannon Clark, who made this project a huge success.”
Sleepy Hollow Auto Sales began in 1987 at the end of a driveway near Viola. That driveway led to Felton’s home farm, Sleepy Hollow Dairy Farm, where he milked cows with his father and brother.
“It was in the middle of nowhere, but it worked,” said Felton, the brains behind that first venture. “Then in 1992, my dad and my brother sold the dairy cows, bought beef, and kept the little car lot on the farm. They ran that until five or six years ago.”
After college, Felton built the first Sleepy Hollow used car facility in Viroqua in 1995. The business accelerated, adding a Chevrolet/Buick/GMC dealership in 2007; Dodge in 2009; and purchasing an existing Ford dealership in Viroqua in 2013.
Today Sleepy Hollow employs 130 people at its dealerships in Viroqua and one dealership in Caledonia, Minnesota. “We have been able to bring on talented people and keep that talent,” said Felton. “That has allowed us to grow and flourish.”
Felton runs the business with his wife, Michelle, who handles the books and payroll. Their son Sawyer, currently studying electrical engineering at Western Technical College, shares his father’s drive to innovate. “He is very interested in electric cars and battery technology,” said Felton. “He was influential in making me really want to jump into this.”
Not afraid to jump into the electric vehicle trend, Felton’s Sleepy Hollow crew often advises other dealerships wanting to replicate their efforts. “As a rule, you are better off being proactive than reactive,” said Felton. “You can’t be afraid to move on the cutting edge…with electric vehicles, we’re keeping our foot on the accelerator.”