Bobby Culpepper ended a more than six-decade family tradition last week.
The Harlem mayor permanently closed the doors Saturday of Culpepper Ford, a family-run Ford dealership in Thomson.
“You have to make the best of it and move on,” said Culpepper, owner of the dealership started by his father, Bill, in 1949.
The dealership ended sales on Saturday, but some service work trickled over into this week.
Culpepper cited an economic recession and financial woes for closing the dealership after 63 years.
“Just the economy is so bad,” Culpepper said, adding that he had been hoping to keep the dealership running until the economy picks back up. “We’ve been struggling to try to make a profit and keep it going.”
Culpepper said he plans to sell the property. He said he has high hopes it will sell quickly with a new University Hospital facility planned down the street.
The dealership originally opened in Harlem, where Culpepper said he worked with his father as a child. Culpepper went to college and got married before returning to the dealership at age 20.
“I grew up working there as a kid,” Culpepper said. “I came back there and worked with (my father) just about all my life.”
The dealership, which Culpepper took over from his father in the mid-1980s, outgrew the Harlem building, which was sold to the city and is being renovated into a new home for the Harlem Department of Public Safety. In 1997, Culpepper moved the dealership to Nature’s Way, off Interstate 20, for more exposure.
Culpepper said he moved the dealership eight years ago to Thomson to compete with several other dealerships there.
Culpepper’s son, Brian, is the general manager and said running the dealership got more stressful in recent years with the tough economy and more regulations from Ford.
“It’s sad in one respect, but a relief in another,” Brian said.
Ford has stopped licensing new dealerships in rural towns in favor of larger, metropolitan markets, he said.
“They want to eliminate a lot of the small-town dealerships,” Brian said. “There will never be another Ford dealership in Thomson.”
Bobby Culpepper said the closing doesn’t surprise him as the business environment has evolved since the business opened more than 60 years ago.
“Business in general, things change, the environment changes,” Culpepper said. “If you think about it, a lot businesses that were great businesses 50 years ago, they are not even businesses anymore.”
Culpepper said he plans to continue to keep open a Grovetown used car lot he runs in association with the dealership.
Though closing the dealership is a little sad, Culpepper said it’s the beginning of a new chapter.
“Everything is what you make of it,” Culpepper said. “Our approach is to make the most of it. I think of the old adage, ‘if life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’”