Virgil Nelson, Eda Nelson and their five sons.

From Auto Clinic to Hotel: The History of Eleven02

In Company News, Project News by Gabrielle Greenstein

Before 101 11th Avenue was the EVEN Hotel and Staybridge Suites, the property was home to Virgil’s Auto Clinic & Towing, an iconic Rochester family business owned by the Nelson’s.

Virgil Nelson started his career at Rochester’s Standard Gas station. In the five years he spent there, Virgil met his wife, Eda, and had his first son. As the years went on, he watched as three different proprietors tried and failed to make a go of what was, at the time, the run-down City Service Gas Station across the street. After the third owner boarded up the windows and left, Virgil turned to his wife in their small second story apartment and made a promise: he was going to be the one to make the station work. Their landlady, Mrs. Harris, heard about Virgil’s plans and offered him a small loan to purchase the lot.

With that, the 21 year old Virgil opened the doors of Virgil’s Auto Clinic & Towing in May of 1952 with Eda, a six-month-old baby boy, and $3,000. Over the next sixty years, Virgil’s became a staple establishment in Rochester and a neighborhood name.

Virgil’s Auto Clinic & Towing.

Virgil and Eda had five sons: Bradd, Brian, Bruce, Robert, and Ronald. Four of the brothers stayed in Rochester, working their way up from pumping gas to mechanics while Bruce, the oldest, left town for college. Bruce was drafted and served in the army, but eventually came home to his family and joined the business. When the five brothers purchased Virgil’s from their father years later, they continued growing the business by adding nine self-service bays, a 24-hour gas lane, and a convenience store.

In 2013, tragedy struck when the Nelson’s lost Brian to pancreatic cancer. Spending time together as a family became even more precious, so they began to reconsider the future of Virgil’s Auto Clinic and Towing.

The Nelson brothers pose in front of their family business.

Bruce, Bradd, Robert and Ronald decided to look for a potential buyer but struggled to find someone that understood the true value of what they had built.  For the Nelsons, it wasn’t only about the money—it was about their community and honoring their father by leaving the land with a caretaker who would respect their life’s work.

Drawn to the site by its inspiring story of a close family and a dream, EKN’s Founder and CEO, Ebbie Nakhjavani met with the Nelson brothers on a trip to Rochester in 2015.

Ebbie saw the neighborhood’s potential, but he also understood Virgil’s, both for what it was and what it could be. He imagined revitalizing 11th avenue with the same forward-thinking spirit Virgil Nelson had in 1952.

Virgil’s sat across from Mayo Clinic’s St. Mary’s Campus, a renowned medical center that hosts over one million patients a year. Ebbie knew the lack of extended stay lodging in Rochester put unnecessary strain on visiting patients and families, so he set out to create comfortable, restful spaces for the community, patients of St. Mary’s, and their loved ones.

The Nelsons also envisioned their neighborhood evolving and trusted that EKN would be the company to help them take the next step. The Nelson brothers sold their land to Ebbie and his partners later that year.  

The Nelson’s story is quintessentially American. Through tenacity and loyalty, one man’s risky purchase turned into a vibrant family business known to every Rochester native.

The Nelson brothers in Virgil’s Auto Shop.

Shortly after the hotels opened their doors, the Nelsons toured the EVEN Hotel and Staybridge Suites.

“It’s clear they spared no expense. We had an amazing experience,” said Bruce. The brothers felt the hotels honored their family’s legacy and represented Rochester‘s bright future.

The Nelson brothers were moved to see the conference center named for their father, Virgil, a personal touch incorporated to honor the property’s entrepreneurial history and the lasting impact the Nelsons left on the community. “We don’t regret selling the place for a minute,” says Bruce.

“Virgil’s was an iconic chapter of Rochester’s rich history, and we were honored when the Nelson brothers trusted us with their land,” says Ebbie. “Our hope is that the EVEN and Staybridge give the people of Rochester the same personal care Virgil Nelson and his sons provided for decades. We are so excited for the future of 11th Avenue and the city.”

The Nelson’s are currently enjoying retirement with their families. Virgil will be 91 this year.

The EVEN Hotel and Staybridge Suites are open for business and celebrated their grand opening ceremony on September 2, 2021.