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Home > Businesses, Institutions, & Organizations > River Hills Automotive (est 1968)

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River Hills Automotive 2015This photo documents gas prices in 2015 thoughout Burnsville and at River Hills Automotive.
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River Hills Automotive 1968 20192019 - Pumps at River Hills Automotive, which were updated in 2020.
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River Hills Automotive 2018September, 2018 River Hills Automotive celebrates 50 years in business.
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River Hills Automotive 2017Recreation of a 1968 photo showing the view when looking out from the service bay area of the garage.
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River Hills Automotive 2017This black and white photo goes back to when River Hills Automotive opened in 1968 as a Pure Oil and then Union 76 Station. The owner was Chuck Barnes and today his son Dave.
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River Hills Automotive early yearsLocated at 2825 Cliff Road East, River Hills Automotive has been performing auto repairs and factory-scheduled maintenance on most domestic and foreign vehicles since 1968. The original owner was Chuck Barnes and today it is owned by his son Dave.
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River Hills Automotive 2017Chuck Barnes owner (left) with Arthur Cunningham during his opening year 1968 at River Hills Automotive on Cliff Road. Today his son Dave owns the business. It is located at 2825 Cliff Road East.
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River Hills Automotive 2018September, 2018 River Hills Automotive celebrates 50 years in business with a classic cars exhibit.
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River Hills Automotive 2017Dave Barnes, whose father Chuck first owned River Hills Automotive. Located at 2825 Cliff Road East, River Hills Automotive has been performing auto repairs and factory-scheduled maintenance on most domestic and foreign vehicles since 1968. The business was established by Chuck Barnes and is owned today by his son Dave.
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River Hills Automotive 2014Pinpointing the price of gasoline in 2014. The station opened in 1968 - owner Chuck Barnes, today the owner is his son Dave.
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River Hills Automotive 2017Gas pumps at River Hills Automotive in 2017 showing the site of Kirk Detlefsen's insurance building across Cliff Road. A similar photo shot in 1968 shows the property across the street a field.
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River Hills Automotive 2018September, 2018 River Hills Automotive celebrates 50 years in business.
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River Hills Automotive 2017Located at 2825 Cliff Road East, River Hills Automotive has been performing auto repairs and factory-scheduled maintenance on most domestic and foreign vehicles since 1968.
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River Hills Automotive 2017Located at 2825 Cliff Road East, River Hills Automotive has been performing auto repairs and factory-scheduled maintenance on most domestic and foreign vehicles since 1968. It was established by Chuck Barnes and is now owned by his son Dave.
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River Hills Automotive 2017Located at 2825 Cliff Road East, River Hills Automotive has been performing auto repairs and factory-scheduled maintenance on most domestic and foreign vehicles since 1968.
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River Hills Automotive 2017Recreation of a 1968 photo showing the view from this pump. Originally farm land, today an office building.
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River Hills Automotive 2017Looking out the doors of the service bays at River Hills Automotive in 1968.

Located at 2825 Cliff Road East, River Hills Automotive has been performing auto repairs and factory-scheduled maintenance on most domestic and foreign vehicles since 1968. It was opened by Chuck Barnes and is now owned by his son Dave.
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River Hills Automotive 1968Located at 2825 Cliff Road East, River Hills Automotive has been performing auto repairs and factory-scheduled maintenance on most domestic and foreign vehicles since 1968. The original owner was Chuck Barnes and today it is owned by his son Dave.
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River Hills 76Then a PURE OIL Station located on Cliff Road near River Hills remains in business in 2017 as a Shell Station called River Hills Automotive.
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River Hills Automotive 2017One of the service bays at the long running Burnsville business on Cliff Road.
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River Hills Union 76 ad1970 Burnsville Savage Local directory ad for River Hills Union 76, still in business in 2021.
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River Hills Automotive.Located at 2825 Cliff Road East, River Hills Automotive has been performing auto repairs and factory-scheduled maintenance on most domestic and foreign vehicles since 1968.
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River Hills Automotive. 2017 Located at 2825 Cliff Road East, River Hills Automotive has been performing auto repairs and factory-scheduled maintenance on most domestic and foreign vehicles owned by the Barnes family since opening in1968.
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River Hills AutomotiveSide view of River Hills Automotive, summer 2019.
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River Hills Automotive.Interior photo of the station located at 2825 Cliff Road East, River Hills Automotive has been performing auto repairs and factory-scheduled maintenance on most domestic and foreign vehicles since 1968.
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Family owned service station celebrates 50 years 2018September 7, 2018 Burnsville Eagan Sun/Thisweek News reports on the 50th anniversary of River Hills Automotive.

River Hills Automotive bucked trends

Dave Barnes was 7 when his father opened River Hills Automotive 50 years ago at 2825 E. Cliff Road in Burnsville.

The brand of fuel the station pumps has changed since then — from Pure to Union 76 to Shell — but the business model hasn’t budged.

“This business model, where you have your service station with fuel, repair, a tow truck, that whole footprint, I don’t know that you can find a handful of those anywhere anymore,” said Barnes, who now owns River Hills Automotive with business partner and lead mechanic John Pearson. “Now they’re all converted into convenience stores.”

The business will celebrate its 50th anniversary Thursday, Sept. 13, through Saturday, Sept. 15. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held Thursday from 11 a.m. to noon. A classic car show will be held Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. A Shell NASCAR vehicle will be on display Friday and Saturday.

River Hills Automotive opened in October 1968 on an unpaved stretch of Cliff Road where its only neighbor was the old Joe Kennelly farm near Highway 13.

Dave’s father, Chuck, was working at Pete’s 76 at Old Cedar Avenue and Old Shakopee Road in Bloomington when the chance came to buy into the brand new Pure Oil Co. station in the growing suburb of Burnsville.

By 1969 it had become a Union 76 station. The company’s signature rotating orange ball was a fixture at River Hills Automotive for 28 years before the switch to Shell.

Burnsville’s South River Hills and North River Hills subdivisions established a base of customer support that continues today.

“It’s been a nice little neighborhood and nice community, this River Hills area,” Dave Barnes said. “My dad saw the first generation, and now we’re working on third-generation families.”

As convenience-store gasoline and auto malls multiplied, River Hills Automotive thrived by building a niche as a traditional, neighborhood-based gas and service station, said Barnes, who graduated from Burnsville High School in 1979.

He went on to study music, engineering and business management at Mankato State University but eventually found his way back into the family business, becoming station manager in 1993 and completing the transfer of ownership from his father in 2001.

“It grew on me,” Barnes said. “I got the bug. To me it’s not the individual cars that come in and the repairs. Those are important, obviously. That’s what we do. But it’s the day-to-day working with people and customers, and growing relations and being involved in the community over 50 years.”

Barnes estimates about 20 vehicles a day go through the shop’s three repair bays. River Hills Automotive employs 14 people and has eight fueling stations, he said.

“To this day I still provide full service for handicapped people,” Barnes said. “We provide full service for elderly people. We probably have 25 to 30 cars that we know by sight when they pull into the lot, and we go out and pump gas for them. And we designated a pump so they know which one to go to.”
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River Hills Automotive. 2017Located at 2825 Cliff Road East, River Hills Automotive has been performing auto repairs and factory-scheduled maintenance on most domestic and foreign vehicles since 1968. The original owner was Chuck Barnes, with his son Dave now owner.
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River Hills Automotive 2017When opened in 1968 this was a Pure Oil Gas Station, also known as a Union 76. Located at 2825 Cliff Road East, River Hills Automotive original owner was Chuck Barnes and today his son Dave.
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River Hills Automotive 2017Looking out the window at a vehicle at River Hills Automotive 1968. Mary Mother of the Church is shown, the Cliffview Plaza has not been built yet.

Located at 2825 Cliff Road East, River Hills Automotive has been performing auto repairs and factory-scheduled maintenance on most domestic and foreign vehicles since 1968. The original owner was Chuck Barnes and it is now owned by his son Dave.
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River Hills Automotive 2017Located at 2825 Cliff Road East, River Hills Automotive has been performing auto repairs and factory-scheduled maintenance on most domestic and foreign vehicles since 1968. The original owner was Chuck Barnes and today it is owned by his son Dave.
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