O n a recent visit to the valley, my friend’s sister voiced an astute observation about our home territory: “The only thing there are more of in this valley than Subarus are dogs and pickup trucks.” While pickups are a staple of any rural town, both Subarus and multiple-canine households do seem to be unusually abundant in Teton Valley.
A location where one is sure to find an ample sampling of both Subarus and dogs—five resident office pooches at last count—is Sue’s Roos Independent Subaru (“independent” meaning non-franchise).
Launched in the late Patrick Gallagher’s Victor garage, Sue’s Roos has been servicing Subies, and the occasional “other make,” since 1979. As the years passed and the reputation grew, Gallagher hired Lusio Chavez and Etta Rokes to help keep up with demand and expand the business. In 2007 they moved to their current location on Rocky Road Industrial Loop south of Driggs. When Gallagher lost his battle with colon cancer in 2009, Etta continued carrying the torch.
Sue’s Roos has a cult-like following throughout the Tetons. The company’s crew has been likened to trusted family pediatricians, knowing each “baby” intimately.
“Day in, day out we deal with more Subarus than most Subaru dealers, because they work on all makes,” says Jason Stiegelmeyer, Etta’s “co-pilot” and Sue’s Roos’ sales manager. “We are spoiled because we know Subarus so well.”
Sue’s Roos was voted “Best Mechanic” in a recent Teton Valley poll, and the enterprise took bronze in the category of “Best Place to Buy a Car” in the Planet Jackson Hole Best of Jackson Hole 2016—even though it’s not in Jackson Hole. A recent Facebook post praised Sue’s as “Hands down. Honest, fair, and wicked competent.”
How does a company earn such a stellar reputation, along with an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau?
“It is important that we are trusted,” says Etta.
Chris Pennick has been bringing her cars to Sue’s Roos since the days of Gallagher’s garage. “Several times we went in with what we thought was a specific problem and they sent us home with a cheaper, smarter solution,” says Chris.
“We have to make money,” Jason says, “but we don’t need to do things unnecessarily.”
The mechanics at Sue’s Roos don’t typically work on trucks. Yet, says Chris, “they saved us when the radiator on our Chevy blew during wood-cutting season. Without Sue’s it would have been a cold winter.”
One way Sue’s Roos keeps costs low and gets cars back on the road quickly is by maintaining a large boneyard of old Subarus that they mine for parts. More than once a parent has showed up there, guilty teen in tow, looking to fix a dented fender or door.
“We sell a lot of cars to first-time drivers. We also repair a lot of those teen drivers’ mistakes,” Etta says, laughing. “The colors don’t always match, but most of our customers don’t seem to mind.”
Those customers include an array of interesting folks. “Subaru owners can be eccentric,” Jason says. “We get great characters. [They’re] a different breed.”
One of those characters, an ex-Four Seasons chef, likes to escape Jackson Hole for the oasis of Sue’s Roos’ waiting room. He says he enjoys sitting in the quiet, and he even brings huge meals over the hill for the staff to enjoy.
Another loyal customer is Teton High School history teacher and track coach Neil Gleichman. His current—and third—Subaru, a 1995 Legacy, passed the 400,000-mile mark last year. He’s shooting for 500,000.
“A lot of the fun of having a high-mileage car is the slight gamble with each long road trip to some remote location,” Neil says. “It’s kind of like an extreme sport for peregrinating older people. Sue’s Roos are clearly invested in my participation in this game. To be honest, they kind of fuel it.”
“It feels like a reality show some days,” Jason says. A reality show filled with plenty of unconventional people, lots of Subarus, and several dogs … along with the occasional pickup truck.
Story by Mel Paradis, Photography by Jamye Chrisman