Local towing company struggles to stay open during brown winter

City regulations also increase difficulty for towing businesses to stay afloat.

Office Manager April Reichert balances the books Monday evening at Gopher Towing. According to owner Jene Buell theyve only made ten percent of what they made last winter.

Erin Westover

Office Manager April Reichert balances the books Monday evening at Gopher Towing. According to owner Jene Buell they’ve only made ten percent of what they made last winter.

Branden Largent

This seasonâÄôs warm and nearly snowless winter is driving the third-largest towing company in Minneapolis into the ditch.

Gopher Towing, which has been towing around the University of Minnesota campus for 35 years, is struggling now more than ever.

Gopher Towing has been averaging about six call-ins a day this winter, while last winter they received an average of 75 per day, according to Gene Buell, the companyâÄôs owner.

Buell has recently considered partnering with other towing companies, selling his business or shutting down Gopher Towing completely.

This winter, only 11.2 inches of snow have fallen on Minneapolis âÄî 16.5 inches below the average for this time of year and 41.4 inches below last yearâÄôs snow accumulation at this time, Twin Cities/Chanhassen Weather Forecast Office Observing Program Leader Michelle Margraf said.

 âÄúItâÄôs been freakish weather,âÄù Buell said. âÄúIâÄôve been watching the weather to the T for 35 years, and IâÄôve never seen anything thatâÄôs so anti-towing.âÄù

By this time last winter, the city of Minneapolis declared six snow emergencies and had declared a record of eight by the end of the season, Minneapolis Communications Specialist Matt Lindstrom said.

Buell has laid off six employees in the last month to cut costs.

He also sold one of his flatbed trucks in December to make the next payroll and has recently sold a light-service truck to pay off bills.

âÄúItâÄôs absolutely, terrifyingly horrible,âÄù Buell said.

In addition to the weak winter, Buell also said that the cityâÄôs low pricing regulations on private property towing has also made it difficult to keep his business open during this harsh downturn.

Two and a half years ago, the city started capping private property towing âÄî the most lucrative type of towing âÄî at a $207 charge per tow, Buell said.

Normally, a successful season like last winter would bring in an extra $100,000 or more in reserve for the business. For Buell, it was just enough to cover costs with none put into reserve.

Even though last season was busy, it was still just enough to break even with the price regulations, he said.

âÄúIf it wouldnâÄôt have been for the snow last winter, we would have been in big trouble, but that bailed us out,âÄù Buell said.

Since the price caps have been enacted, the city has increased the price per tow to $212 âÄî a 2 percent raise that wasnâÄôt enough to cover the cost of replacing signs that showed drivers the earlier price, Buell said.

 âÄú[The city] are in good conscience trying to do their jobs and they donâÄôt see the variables in our industry,âÄù Buell said.

He advocates for a minimum $245 towing fee for private property towing to keep businesses like Gopher Towing afloat. He said he is meeting with a lobbyist Monday to discuss how to change the cityâÄôs policy.