Settles, a long-time county establishment, looks forward
Kendra Settle Hahn grew up inside her family’s business, running the register, sweeping the floor, anything she could do to be of assistance. One of her earliest memories is sitting on the knee of Patsy, the women who ran the register, and ringing up customers.
“Ever since I was little it was just what I was going to do,” says Hahn, 26, who has worked as general manager of the business since 2010 and plans to continue doing so after the birth of her first child this fall.
Today, Settles Cars & Trucks remains a family owned and operated automotive dealership, selling pre-owned vehicles and RVs. They also run a lively gas station and convenience store just off Route 522 in Flint Hill.
Family roots have made Settles a staple in a county where personal connections matter, whether that means knowing the person selling you a vehicle or making your ham sandwich.
Those roots go back to when Hahn’s grandparents started the business as a garage and grocery at Laurel Mills in Castleton. They moved to their current location in 1972.
Hahn’s father, Richard Settle, who most residents know as Bubby, has been running the company since he was just 16, she says. But her grandmother, who Hahn fondly refers to as Granny, continued to manage the book-keeping and many of the daily business operations until she passed away in 2010.
With her grandmother gone, Hahn says her father needed someone with computer skills who he could trust so she stepped in to help run the company just after finishing high school. Sometimes she calls herself Bubby’s right and left hand, she jokes.
Hahn has taken on her role with zeal, bringing new ideas and innovation. The car dealership now has an in-house DMV that allows them to issue same-day tags for vehicle purchases and they advertise their stock on their website and Facebook page.
It’s a transition that has kept Settles relevant at a time when the county itself is changing.
The deli and food sales are a growing part of the business and something Hahn says she’s working to expand, with hopes of adding more space and menu options in part to give people in the area some affordable food options.
The store stocks Trickling Springs dairy products and Whiffletree Farm eggs, meat and poultry out of Warrenton. Even at a slightly higher price point, Hahn says those products are selling well. In a place with no major grocery store, Settles is providing some middle ground.
“There’s a market for it because there isn’t really any other place, especially in Flint Hill that you’re going to be able to get that sort of thing,” Hahn says.
Other changes have been slower in coming.
It wasn’t until roughly eight years ago that the business put in gas pumps that take credit cards. The move provided a big boost to business, Hahn says, since it allowed people to get gas even if the store wasn’t open.
She does worry some about the county’s aging demographics. She stepped into her job right after finishing high school but says she understands that young people whose families can’t provide them with land or opportunities find it harder to stay in the county.
“If you really don’t have an in, you’re out,” she says.
She likens some of what she sees in the county to the table in the back of the grocery where a group of residents has regularly gathered in the mornings to exchange news and gossip.
“It’s dwindling down and if there’s nobody there to replace it, then what are we going to be left with?” she asks. “And as far as our business, we need people that come by every day, that’s how it works, people that need gas and food and drink.”
Having more visitors come to the area might help, at least with gas sales, she says. But Settles caters mainly to residents — and it draws a loyal following.
“We have people that have bought every vehicle they’ve ever owned from us,” says Hahn, who estimates that about 70 percent of their customers are locals. “They’re like family to us really,” she adds.
So too are their staff, some of whom have been with the company for decades. Hiring newer employees is harder, in part because the store opens so early.
Newer generations of customers are different too — less loyal, Hahn believes. “And it’s hard when there’s always bigger and better and shinier dealerships.”
Bubby started the car business in the early 1980s with just a few cars and grew it gradually. They added a dealership in Amissville in the early 2000s and now have about 70 vehicles between the two places at all times, Hahn says.
Car sales have been steady in recent years, helped in part by a strong economy, she notes. The two dealerships combined sell an average of 20 cars a month. But the main growth has been in the deli.
Hahn says she has met much of her community through the business, and she hopes the county can retain its small town flavor.
And there is something genuinely small-town about her ties to it. The office in which she now works is in the house where she was born. She’s putting in a nursery so her daughter can grow up in the business too.
She and her husband, who also works with the company, live across the street, in the home where Hahn grew up. “It’s basically full circle, staying in the family,” she says with a laugh.