When Tim Malecha was just 16 years old, he became one of the youngest certified Toro dealers in history.
As a junior in high school, he began selling Toro lawn mowers and repairing small engines in his parents’ 15-by-30-foot garage at 510 Main St. N in Lonsdale. He cultivated his ability to repair lawnmowers even sooner.
“It all started out when I was 12 years old, and I was mowing a lady’s lawn,” said Tim. “I hit something with the lawnmower and damaged it, took it home and repaired it, and finished mowing her lawn. I got paid more for repairing it than I did for mowing her lawn, even though I did the damage.”
When Tim opened his business in 1979, he never gave it a thought to keep it going for the long term. But that’s exactly what happened, and on Tuesday, Tim’s Small Engine Repair celebrated 40 years in operation.
Although Toro is successful now, Tim said the company struggled financially when his business started. Toro was willing to sell products to anyone, even a high school student like Tim. He sold his first riding lawnmower for $639, but a similar product today costs around $2,500. With the business open in late fall, Tim felt lucky to sell his four snowblowers in stock because he didn’t want them left over for summer.
Tim’s inventory of Toro snowmobiles, and push and ride-on lawnmowers has continued since his business’s opening, and he added Stihl chainsaws and trimmers in 1983. He also sells small parts for his larger products and repairs Toro and Stihl equipment — a job made easier since his current building has a front and back showroom, a storage shed and a work area.
Until his building was completed in 1986, Tim’s parents, the late Robert and Evelyn Malecha, parked outside the garage to make space for their son’s work. Robert, who worked for Allis-Chalmers and Chevy dealerships, helped Tim a little bit in the early years. But for the most part, Tim worked on his own.
When Tim met his wife, Sue, his business operated without any form of signage. Sue remembers being confused when Tim told her he owned a business, until she saw him carry lawnmowers and equipment down the stairs.
While dating Tim, Sue helped him stain and paint his current place of business on Fifth Avenue NW. After they married in 1988, Sue began doing pickups, deliveries and assemblage.
Working together and providing well for their two children, Kurtis and Katelynn, are two major perks of the job for Sue. She believes her son and daughter both developed a strong work ethic from helping out at the shop — Kurtis has a Ph.D. in Atmospheric Chemistry and now lives in San Diego, and Katelynn is getting her master’s in occupational therapy from the College of St. Scholastica.
“I could not be more proud of my dad for all the accomplishments he has done and continues to do,” said Katelynn, who drove from Duluth to surprise her dad on his business’ anniversary. “He has raised me to have a hard work ethic with good morals. He is one of the most honest men I know, and I have heard from many customers that he does excellent work.”
Sue added that customers sometimes venture from the Twin Cities to buy parts they only manage to find at Tim’s Small Engine Repair. She’s pleased that the business has made a positive contribution to the community.
“I think it means the world to me and to us,” said Sue. “I’m so proud of him that he has such a successful business and worked really hard.”
Tim is grateful for his business in that it allows him independence and, being in Lonsdale, it makes for a quick commute. And although he’s worked hard since he was a teenager, he now takes time to go downhill skiing and go on roller-coaster rides with Kurtis.
“I don’t feel any older, and I plan on going several more years,” said Tim. “People ask me when I’m going to retire, and it hasn’t even been thought about yet.”