Jackson, CA — Economic recession stalled operations at a prominent Amador County car dealer Tuesday.
New Jackson Ford-Mercury closed its doors on Highway 49 atop Sutter Hill. When business boomed in the late 1990s, Jackson Ford was a multimillion-dollar dealership, offering some 375 vehicles at the site on any given day and employing 50 people, said Charles Smith, co-owner with his wife, Nanette. Smith has run the business for 15 years.
“My inventories were as high as $7 million,” said Smith, a 30-year veteran of the auto industry.
The firm in recent months had been forced to cut staff numbers to around 20. Two months ago, the Prospect Motors auto dealership group closed across the highway from Smith’s showroom. In all, job loss locally in auto sales now amounts to around 100 in the severe recession.
An emotionally weary Smith said he has turned his energies toward a business plan aimed to fit the federal economic recovery program.
“That’s going to take all my time,” Smith said. “We’ll close doors in sales and service, and hope to fight another battle.”
Smith began his auto sales career with Ford, moved to Toyota, then to Ferrari – “trying to make it to the top real quick” – then to 10 years with Mercedes-Benz, and back to Ford in 1994. He holds an associate’s degree from Diablo Valley College in Walnut Creek.
Reflectively, Smith said, “We had a great run. The community has been great.”
Locals are taking the news hard, said Jacqueline Lucido, executive director of the Amador County Chamber of Commerce and Visitor’s Bureau.
“It’s devastating to the community,” Lucido said. “Charles is the nicest, most dedicated and honest car dealer imaginable. He was always giving, always involved.”
Smith said negotiations recently fell through for his approximately eight acres of land on which the dealership stands. He also had hoped for a federal Small Business Department loan to quickly install new flooring for cars on display and to recapitalize the business. In addition, both Smith and Prospect owner Frank Halvorson had hoped for federal help as part of an auto industry bailout.
Halvorson, who saw his Prospect dealerships along with Jackson Ford compose an unofficial Amador auto row, said he knows what the Smiths are going through and sympathizes.
“It’s horrible,” Halvorson said. “I wouldn’t wish it on someone I didn’t know and didn’t like, much less on somebody I like. There’s nothing good about this for anybody. It’s another loss. It’s a shame and something that, somehow, we’re all going to have to work out of.”
Smith asked to give a list of “thank-you-to’s.”
“I’ve said that if I went around the world three times and spoke to everybody twice, I’d never meet nicer people,” he said. “Thank you to Jackie Lucido, Margaret Dalton, Frank Halvorson, all my staff, the Bank of Amador, Amador County judges, Jack Mitchell – and a host of others.”
Reprinted with permission from Amador Ledger-Dispatch