DANVILLE – When Fagen Auto Parts closed its doors for the last time Friday, a chapter in Danville history also came to an end.
The business that was started by Wolf Fagen, the grandfather of current Fagen owner Ken Salomon, has been a part of the community since 1929.
Next weekend, Danville residents and longtime customers of the specialty auto and truck accessories shop will have an opportunity to own a piece of Fagen memorabilia or a unique collectible during a “pickers’ sale” that will take place from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on both Friday, June 3, and Saturday, June 4, at the shop at 3202 N. Vermilion St.
Scott Mathis is co-organizer of the sale along with Cindy Nygren, who is known in Danville for her estate sales promotions.
Some of the wide variety of items for sale will include custom truck accessories, vintage toys, vintage die-cast cars including a few Fagen-branded die-cast race cars, Indy 500 souvenir glasses, autographed photos of race car drivers, three dozen collectible decanters and advertising pieces.
Mathis said everything will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.
Earlier this week, Dave Lenover of Danville came to the shop with a bucket truck and carefully removed the iconic yellow Fagen Auto Parts sign as well as the post it had been perched on for decades.
“I’ve got a building that’s my man cave, and I’m going to put it out front,” he said of his intentions for the sign.
Butch Schroeder and his buddy Donald Warner, both of Danville, also stopped by the shop to have a look around for the last time and to pick up some mementos from Salomon.
“He gave me an Indy 500 banner,” Warner said. “Years ago, I used to come down here. We’re all hot-rodders.”
A 1970 decanter from Reno, Nevada, decorated like a black-and-white checkered racing flag and featuring a gold Mustang airplane was set aside for Schroeder.
“I’m involved with airplanes of that era,” Schroeder explained about the significance of the decanter.
“I hate that this place is closing,” he added. “In six or seven years it would be the 100-year anniversary of the business.”
Salomon, who is the third generation to run the family-owned business, said, “Before there was AutoZone, there was Fagen’s. Most stores nowadays are hard parts stores that sell parts to fix your car if you break down. That’s what stores like AutoZone are.”
“We specialize in accessories for trucks and cars, which was popular in the ’50s and ‘60s,” Salomon said.
Remnants of that bygone era could still be found in the shop, such as a faux fur “deck dickey” in a glass case at the front of the store.
Deck dickeys, which were placed across the back window ledge in a car, originally were made from scraps of lining used in Windbreaker jackets made in Danville.
“My family knew Joe Taisch who ran the Windbreaker factory, and it evolved from that,” Salomon said. “It became a national phenomenon.”
Kerr, another Illinois-based company, eventually took over production of deck dickeys, fuzzy dice and furry rear view mirror muffs.
Fagen Auto Parts had humble beginnings as Danville United Auto Wreckers where Wolf Fagen and Max Baer repurposed tires at South and Hazel Streets in 1929, just as the country plummeted into the Great Depression.
“My grandfather Wolf Fagen had fine clothing stores in Danville, but he lost everything in the Depression,” Salomon said.
In the 1950s, Fagen Auto Parts occupied a newly constructed building at South and Hazel Streets “while keeping the old building open because he didn’t want to lose any business,” Salomon said of his grandfather.
Wolf Fagen was the father of seven girls, one of whom was Salomon’s mom, Lillian. In 1966, Salomon’s dad, Kurt, became business partners with Ken Salomon’s uncle, Sam Schulman, who was married to another one of Wolf Fagen’s daughters, Bess.
Kurt Salomon, whose background was in newspaper advertising at the Chicago Heights Star, designed the recognizable Fagen in-motion logo featuring two checkered racing flags. Schulman, who was an artist and an active member of the Danville Art League, painted the shop’s windows for years after he retired from the business in 1970.
An urban renewal project in 1970 and the construction of the Towne Centre shopping center, which consumed the area at South and Hazel streets, forced Fagen Auto Parts to relocate to its last home in the 3200 block of North Vermilion Street.
“All that was here was Sutton’s Root Beer, the drive-in and McDonald’s,” Salomon said. “We lucked out.”
The Quonset hut-style building already existed on the property and had been a Volkswagen dealership at the time. The property, however, has a far more interesting history than just past VW sales.
A wealthy Centralia man named John Shakespeare, who once owned 30 Bugattis and made his fortune in the oil industry and by manufacturing fishing reels, originally owned the property in the 1950s and built the Quonset hut from which he sold Mack trucks and Morgan cars.
“That’s who we purchased the property from. He also owned the land where Disney World is,” Salomon said. “He was very eccentric, and he was murdered in the mid-1970s.”
After his dad passed away and his mom remarried and prepared to move to California, the younger Salomon, who had been an options trader on the Chicago Board Options Exchange, returned to Danville in 1989 to run the shop and figure out the future of the business.
Once Salomon re-established roots in Danville and started collecting cars, he decided to keep operating the business for another 33 years.
“I was restoring cars for myself in the back,” he said of the building.
Another car Salomon restored at the shop was a 1969 convertible Chevelle for Bruce Springsteen. That car has been on display for the last two years at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
“It was a three-year deal, and the car will be there for one more year,” Salomon said.
Springsteen wrote about a car like that in the 1978 song, “Racing in the Street.” Although the ’69 Chevy was acquired after Springsteen wrote the song, Salomon said when he restored the car, “it had to have a shifter, certain wheels and a stripe down the side because it was mentioned in the song.”
After declining offers over the years to sell the prime Danville location, Salomon said he felt the time was finally right.
“Because of its location, I get approached quite a bit about if I’d be interested in selling,” he said. “I would have kept the business open and moved to another location in town, but it didn’t feel right opening in another location.”
Fagen Truck Accessories at 700 Bloomington Road in Champaign will remain open, Salomon said.
“Anyone who has a warranty or a problem with something they bought from us can go there and get it taken care of,” he said. “I kept the old (Danville) phone number, so it will transfer calls there (to Champaign).”
Closing the location in Danville where his family started the business 93 years ago has been bittersweet.
“It’s sad. I have nothing but fond memories,” Salomon said. “I’m going to miss seeing our customers and sharing car stories.”