It was almost an eerie coincidence. Just a couple of weeks after a News-Times story in which Harlem Mayor Bobby Culpepper asked residents of his city to contribute historical relics for a future museum, his own business would be consigned to one.
Though long since moved out of Harlem, Culpepper Ford had been a venerable part of the city’s history since Culpepper’s father founded the dealership in 1949.
In that post-World War II era, returning GI’s and the nation’s post-war affluence made automotive dealerships a virtual gold mine for that golden age of automobiles.
Surviving and thriving through two more major wars, Culpepper Ford, now under ownership of the founder’s son, eventually moved out of Harlem to a more-visible location in Appling along Interstate 20, an effort to feed the manufacturer’s appetite for steady sales growth. It moved again eight years ago, out of Columbia County altogether, seeking heavier traffic in Thomson.
Yet the intervening and persistent recession, coupled with the manufacturer’s demands for ever-increasing sales volume, finally took its toll. Last week, Mayor Culpepper, along with his son, the third generation member of the business, turned off the lights at the nearly 63-year-old dealership. They’ll continue to operate a used-car lot in Grovetown, but the Culpepper Ford name is part of the history books.
It’s sad when any business calls it quits, but it’s also a reality of our changing, economically struggling times. Culpepper Ford isn’t the only Thomson casualty; our sister paper, The McDuffie Mirror, published its final edition this past week. The same market forces that made it increasingly difficult for the small town to sustain the Ford dealership also swamped the weekly newspaper.
Though the economy certainly has taken a toll, especially on the building business, Columbia County has continued to be an engine of growth in the midst of lean times, and The News-Times – also founded in Harlem – continues to thrive. But we’d all better hope and pray for a national economic turnaround; otherwise, the museums might run out of space.