This year will mark 48 years in business for the family business Grafton Muffler.
The shop began in 1974 when Milt Rennicke began working at Riebe Oldsmobile in Grafton, formerly located at 481 Port Washington Rd. He had just completed his term in the military, where he was stationed in Panama as a mechanic, and decided to follow the advice of his friends in the army: get a job on cars.
“That’s what they told me,” he said.
When Riebe closed, Rennicke bought the business and took over. His son Chris Rennicke started working there when he was 16 years old.
In 1989, the Rennicke family purchased a boutique at 481 N. Port Washington Rd., moved to the new space, and renamed the operation Grafton Mufflers.
Decades later, Chris took over the business and continues to provide automotive services in the town of Grafton. Milt, who suffered a stroke and underwent major heart surgery, continues to work in the shop, meeting customers and performing other duties.
Milt said he’s glad the store has stayed in the family and he can still come in and work, even if he doesn’t do heavy work.
“I like it. I like working,” he said.
Grafton Mufflers specialize in manufacturing mufflers and exhaust systems, but also offer other automotive services. Chris said collectors of older vehicles come to the store to have parts made that are no longer produced.
Making broken components of a muffler can also save customers from having to replace their entire system, he added.
“We can cut and fix a specific item rather than replacing the whole system,” Chris said.
Chris said the business has weathered the pandemic well because customers were able to drop off cars that needed work, but a major event created problems for Grafton Mufflers.
Last December, Chris said he arrived at the store to find several police cars and police in the parking lot. He was told they were executing a search warrant for a tenant he had rented space from for about five years, Danny’s Auto Deals.
Owner Sharaf Akhmedov faces four counts – two for fraud against a financial institution over $10,000, one for transfer of personal property over $10,000 and one for transfer of collateral over $10,000. His next court appearance is scheduled for April 4.
Following the raid in which numerous vehicles, files and electronic devices were obtained by police, Chris said he hired a lawyer to help him quickly evict the tenant despite signing a seven-year lease.
“We wanted to let the town and the village know that we were done with them,” he said.
Despite the quick action, Chris said there was still a perception in the community that Grafton Muffler was involved in the raid because it happened on the property.
The Rennickes are currently renovating the exterior of the store, offices, waiting room and bathroom in hopes of attracting a new tenant. Chris said that although he received many inquiries about the space, the impression Danny left on the company remains.
“Even some of the retail businesses that come to rent to you know about it,” he said. “When you come back to it, it just hurts. You can feel it’s still there.
Chris said there were a number of businesses that could fit in the building. Although a car dealership can operate in the space without a new conditional use permit, he said he is open to any business interested in the space, as long as it is suitable for the community and has good business practices.
Chris, his fiancé and daughter-in-law also created a special piece for the company parking lot.
Chris said they came up with the idea of making a coin sculpture in the shop to catch the attention of those driving on the road. After receiving design advice, Chris welded together a Christmas tree, the creation which now stands outside the shop.
He said the project was meant to brighten up the space but would consider doing more sculptures if people were interested.