Long-time local businessman Bob Sykes

Closing the doors and moving on

Bob Sykes, owner of Sooke Harbour Motors, recently sold his business that he looked after for over 20 years.

A little piece of Sooke has packed up and driven out of town.

Bob Sykes, owner of Sooke Harbour Motors, recently sold his business that he looked after for over 20 years.

“I started at the Shell station in ‘91, and moved up here to the centre of Sooke,” said Sykes, whose used-car dealership was the only one in town that stood the test of time.

He began his enterprise by helping a friend sell a Chevy S10 pickup truck out of the gas station garage bays that he rented to do mechanical repair work.

“I sold it the next day and made $1,000,” he said, and immediately knew “wow, this is what I wanted to do!”

Sykes acquired a dealer’s license soon after, with no real idea of how to sell cars for a living. He hired an assistant, and his first thought was “I guess we should get a vacuum cleaner.” Starting with two cars, he learned along the way and quickly outgrew the bays at Shell. He built his West Coast Road car lot in 1994, with living quarters upstairs, where he has “sold lots of cars” over the last two decades.

But in the last four years, he was not spared from the economic downturn.

“People are in debt up to here,” he said raising his arm above his head. So when someone came along and made an offer on his building, Sykes, 64, decided enough was enough and sold his building to do some travelling in B.C. and Alberta while he mulls over his next move.

Born in 100 Mile House, he went to Vancouver in 1965 and started his career as a machinist’s apprentice. He relocated to Victoria in 1979 and worked for a number of companies including Air BC (now part of Air Canada Jazz) repairing ground equipment before coming to Sooke in 1986. Interestingly, what played a part in Sykes leaving town is the same thing that originally drew him here.

“There were really, really good deals on houses here because of the economy at that time, interest rates went sky high.”

He bought a house on Townsend Road behind John Phillips Memorial Golf Course  for $61,000, a move that opened up countless opportunities for Sykes. Describing himself as a shy 38-year-old at the time, he grew out of his shell and has since been involved with everything from assisting Bob Clark’s campaign for regional director of Juan de Fuca to becoming the president of the Sooke Chamber of Commerce seven times.

“Somebody joked I’ve been the chairman of everything.” That includes the finance chairman at the Sooke Region Museum in the early 1990s, helping the facility secure a $350,000 expansion transforming it into what it is today.

While wearing his many hats in town, Sykes has watched Sooke change dramatically from a working community centred around fishing and logging to what he calls primarily a bedroom community where people live but work elsewhere.

“I thought when we incorporated in 1999 we would see a huge difference in the town. As a business person you want to see a business core develop, a nicer downtown.”

With his departure, Sooke residents will have to look elsewhere to purchase a vehicle until someone else steps in to take his place. Perhaps fittingly, the new owner of the Sooke Harbour Motors property will be converting it into an auto repair shop. But Sykes hasn’t discounted the possibility of a return to the west coast.

“I belong to the Royal Colwood Golf Club, so I probably won’t go too far,” he joked.