Cuba City auto auction reaches end of road after 70-plus years

CUBA CITY, Wis. — After more than 70 years in business, Wisconsin’s self-proclaimed first auto auction is closing.

Tri-State Auto Auction, located next to Guler’s Corner and Banfield’s Swiss Haus in Cuba City, currently plans to hold its final auction Jan. 26. Jerry and Helen Brogley, who head the business, said more auctions are possible depending on the sale of the business’ property.

“It’s been successful,” Helen said of the business. “We got to work with our family, and we had a great relationship with our customers.”

The business was started in 1952 by Helen’s father, Albert Dellabella, and the Brogleys’ families have run it ever since. Helen, 78, has worked at the auto auction since 1960, and Jerry, also 78, has been involved since 1968.

From when Jerry and Helen took over the business in 1977 to 2022, Tri-State Auto Auction sold nearly 398,000 vehicles.

The business grew its physical footprint over the years, with two expansions and a total of three lanes for vehicles created over time.

Only car dealers can bid on vehicles at the establishment’s auctions. Helen said the auction received vehicles to sell from within a 100- to 120-mile radius, but the size of that radius has shrunk over time as more auto auctions opened in the Madison area.

“But what hurt us as much as anything was COVID(-19),” Jerry said. “We had to close for 10 weeks. And I always have a meeting with our auctioneers when they’re here, and I asked about two years prior to the pandemic if people were buying more online. And at that time, the auctioneers said, no, they weren’t selling many online.”

Tri-State Auto Auction does not sell cars online, as its computer system would need a major upgrade, so the business fell behind other auto auctions during the pandemic. Many car dealers also closed during the pandemic, Jerry added.

In addition, the number of used cars and trade-ins have decreased dramatically over the past few years, as the availability of vehicles has not met the current demand. Instead of having 250 to 300 cars for an auction pre-pandemic, Jerry said it is now lucky if there are 80 to 100 vehicles available.

Due to those factors, Jerry and his wife decided to close the business. The auction’s property is being sold online via auction, and bidding will end Jan. 31.

“It’s going to be a sad day,” Jerry said. “We’ve been here all our lives.”

The couple’s family also has been heavily involved with the business, from their siblings to their children.

“Every one of our (14) grandchildren have worked here, except for two who live in South Dakota,” Helen said. “When we close, we might not see them as much.”

But the Brogleys said they are grateful for their time with Tri-State Auto Auction, including time with their staff.

“It’s been a very, very lucrative business,” Jerry said. “We have great customers. Many are second or third generation coming in to buy cars.”