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Beginning and Ending
Written June 4, 2009


I grew up in the village of Richwood, Ohio, where my father was the Chevrolet dealer until he retired in 1973 and sold the dealership to the Mills family.  They continued in business for more than 35 years.  But then . . .

David Sigrist keeps track of “what’s brewing” around my old hometown for a local message board.  He reported on September 30, 2008:  “Mills Chevrolet is rumoredly closing (due to GM not financing them or something; well, GM itself isn’t doing well).  They are part empty.  Not looking good.”  The next day he confirmed that the lot was now completely empty.

And a week later, on October 8, 2008, the Richwood Gazette reported:

Mills Chevrolet-Pontiac, located on N. Franklin St., has closed, marking an end to an era for the Richwood community.  Jerry Mills, who purchased the dealership from Vernon Thomas, held a grand opening the week of May 3, 1973.  Steve Mills, who has been owner-manager of the business for the past several years, has been active in the community, and the Mills Dealership has been a major supporter of many events including Springenfest and the Richwood Independent Fair.  The closing of the facility leaves the village without a new car dealership, as Bill Rose Ford closed in 2001.  Attempts to interview Steve Mills have been unsuccessful.

General Motors, as part of its 2009 bankruptcy reorganization, will be shutting down roughly a thousand dealerships around the country, many of them smaller operations like the one in Richwood.  But Mills has already closed, one of the 401 GM dealers who voluntarily terminated their franchises in 2008 — presumably because of poor business conditions.

UPDATE:  The former dealership building has a new purpose.  Click here for the story.

Vernon and Ann Thomas, about 1971

I think back 45 years to the time when my father built the now-vacant facility.  Below are some pictures I took then but have not yet shared with you.

After the previous building was destroyed by fire on June 10, 1964, we cleared away the debris and continued selling cars from the same location.  A house trailer parked beside the used-car lot served as the temporary office.

My father bought two lots on the other side of Oak Street, and within a few months a replacement building was under construction there.  By December 15, 1964, much of the steel was up.

Ten days later, on a rainy Christmas Day, the showroom was taking shape.  (Click this picture for a closer look at the business district on the left.)

By January 12, the roof was going on.  The lower portion of the building, fronting on Franklin Street, housed the showroom and offices and some of the parts department.  The taller structure in the back was the service department.

Several new features were incorporated in the design, including a pit in the service department floor (spanned by a plank on the left side of this picture).  A car needing a front-end alignment would be driven forward onto a platform inside this pit, and then a technician would descend a few steps to perform the adjustments.  There was no need to raise the car on a lift.

The mechanics at their stations were provided with the latest equipment, much of it mounted on wheels for easy portability.

The steel shelves that held parts were painted a clean bright white, not the dark green color of the parts bins at the old facility.

In those days before computers, part numbers had to be looked up in a very large book.  Presiding over the parts department was Ray “Waldo” Sine.  The stairway behind him led to an upper floor, where larger pieces like windshields or tailpipes were stockpiled.

Red Connolly and Gene Cheney sometimes visited Waldo's desk; click here for a photo.

From upstairs, I got this view of the service department.  Devices like air hoses and drop lights were suspended from the ceiling.  And vehicle tailpipes could be hooked up to hoses in the floor, so that exhaust fans could carry the fumes away.  In winter, this allowed us to keep the big overhead doors closed, even with car engines running indoors.

There was good lighting and an ample number of hydraulic lifts.

Finally, in the front part of the garage, the concrete floors were covered with Torginol.  This tough, almost maintenance-free seamless flooring consisted of colored chips (mostly shades of gold) imbedded in some sort of resin, probably epoxy.

There was one drawback:  the sulfur in vulcanized tires would turn the flooring brown.  So under each wheel of each car parked in the showroom, such as this Corvair, we had to insert a foot-square coaster.

   A great while ago this work begun,
   With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
   But that's all one, our work is done.
“And we'll strive to please you every day.”



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