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Monday, September 22, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 63.0° F  Fair
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Dutch's Auto Service mends cars...and sometimes their owners
Attitude adjustment
Crystal Rossman (left) and Nan Mortensen at Dutch's: Clean and comfy.
Crystal Rossman (left) and Nan Mortensen at Dutch's: Clean and comfy.
Credit:Sharon Vanorny

Car troubles? Try a dab of emotional glue.

Nan Mortensen and Crystal Rossman fix cars and sometimes tune up people, too.

"That's the thing about being women in the automotive industry," says Mortensen. "I think we lend a certain amount of emotional glue to the process. A lot of our customers are women, so there's emotional attachment to their cars. A lot."

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women accounted for only 1.2 % of the nation's "automotive body and related repairers" as of 2010. Presumably the number of women-owned-and-operated shops, then, is even smaller. "There are other women-owned shops out there, but they're primarily operated by men," says Rossman.

Mortensen, 43, and Rossman, 32, opened Dutch's Auto Service at 202 Regas Rd. (near Woodman's East) last April. They came up with "Dutch's," which doesn't mean anything specific but when spoken sounds like "dutchess." That's a nod to women, though not meant to exclude Mortensen's brother Jim, 54, who recently joined the team and offers 38 years of experience, including computer diagnostics.

After experiencing some downs in the down economy, Mortensen and Rossman decided to seize the opportunity to be their own bosses and do things their way.

Instead of the stress that often goes with car repair, the owners aim to give customers a feel-good experience. On top of getting the problem fixed, you might get a charm to ward off any further nail punctures in your tires.

Richard Brown, who takes his Volkswagen "Thug Bug" to Dutch's, likes their fair pricing and the friendship he's developed: "They treat me like a human being."

The waiting area offers a warm welcome with black leather couches, shelves full of reading material and walls full of art, with candy on the counter and coffee.

"It's clean, it's comfortable - a lot of times, I'll just wait for the car because it's pleasant," says Sashe Mishur, there with her Scion XB.

Lori Prechel is one curious soul who follows her car, Roo, a 10-year-old Subaru, to the back of the shop where repairs are made. "I feel more knowledgeable after being here just the one time than I have anywhere else," says Prechel.

The sound of progress is the industrial screaming of power tools. Rossman, quiet and head deep inside the tire socket, coaxes a stubborn old strut loose. Mortensen coos, "You're going to be okay," tapping Roo's bumper, more like a vet with an animal than a mechanic with a car.

"I'm still trying to figure out if you exorcized or baptized Roo," says Prechel.

"I baptized her," Mortensen says, elaborating on how she anointed Roo with Mountain Dew. "If that makes Lori feel a little better, then I did something good today."

Employees from neighboring buildings, like the main branch of the post office, started to spread the word. The LGBTQ community has also steered people to Dutch's.

"We are part of the LGBT community, which is a very small group of diverse people. And boy, are they loyal," observes Mortensen. "If we can keep that group of people happy, it fingers out so far into the community. It's amazing."

However, the aim is to cast the net wide: "You car is your car. People are people," says Mortensen. "We want a safe place for everybody. We want to welcome everybody." (That includes canines, if you want to wait for your car with your pooch.)

Dutch's offers car-care classes and works with the "Tools for Tomorrow: Women in Trades and Technology" program at Madison College to coordinate job-shadowing opportunities for women who want to follow a similar path.

Rossman graduated from the auto technician program at Madison College in 2009: "I always liked cars, but my family is very old-fashioned - the boys got all the toys to play with. So I took control one day, left my job and went straight to Madison College."

Mortensen is of a different era and grew up in auto repair, alongside her brother and father. She remembers when the male-dominated field started to change. "It was like, 'Okay, boys, you have to clean up your act now. You actually have to get rid of the girly pictures, clean your bathroom.'" Mortensen thinks that was prompted by national chains when they realized that women spent money on auto repair and weren't comfortable with the environment.

Although Mortensen has endured her share of heckling, she finds that most people who don't like women in the automotive field "tend to just not like a lot of things anyway. If you want to use foul language and derogatory jokes, I think you're going to find it's not just the women who find that offensive. It's probably most human beings."

Dutch's Auto Service
202 Regas Rd., 608-244-7204, Mon.-Fri. 8 am-6 pm

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