FF Driving School shuts its doors [UPDATED]Published 4:55am Monday, January 6, 2014 Updated 6:57am Monday, January 6, 2014
Fergus Falls Driving School owner Tom Saffel has been trying desperately to keep his business afloat for the past several months. He said he has not even taken a paycheck since August in an effort to sustain the business through the winter.
But over the holidays, Saffel came to the difficult decision that it would be impossible to keep going. So after countless students and miles, Saffel has closed the doors of the driving school.
“Financially I just wasn’t able to keep the business going anymore,” he said. “I just want to say thank you to the people of Fergus for their business and loyalty. It has been an honor and privilege to do driver’s training for your teenagers the last 10 years.”
Saffel opened Fergus Falls Driving School in 2004. The first five years or so were the businesses’ best, with classes filled up and behind-the-wheel appointments steady through the year.
But he noticed a gradual decline in business beginning with the recession of the late 2000s. At that point, his students were generally 15 going on 16 rather than 14 going on 15 as they were in the early years.
That age change reflected many family’s inability to start their children behind the wheel because of related costs. A spot in Fergus Falls Driving School cost $240.
Despite the downturn in business, Saffel said he did not begin thinking about closing the business until about six weeks ago. Summer classes could usually sustain Saffel through the slower winter months, but this year those summer classes were not large enough.
Saffel’s last class was on Dec. 13. He lost his instructor’s license Dec. 31 and cleaned out his office this week.
Fergus Falls Driving School was the only private driving school in the city. The Fergus Falls School District also has a driver instruction program.
He does not have his next move planned out and while he would love to continue this kind of work, he is uncertain if an opportunity will present itself.
Saffel said he thoroughly enjoyed his time at Fergus Falls Driving School and the families and students he worked with the last 10 years.
But he did not get to go out the way he would have wanted to, which he said will always bother him.
“My biggest regret is the students that I don’t have finished up right now,” said Saffel, who will be particularly bothered by the fact that one of his students needed just one more road session before taking her driver’s exam.
That session was scheduled for Tuesday, the day he lost his instructor’s license.
Students who were enrolled in a class at Fergus Falls Driving School should be getting a letter from the Department of Public Safety shortly.
These students should also be eligible for refunds through the DPS.