McARTHUR – Lawrence Agee and his family have sold Chevrolets in eastern Shasta County for 60 years.
It’s that kind of loyalty Agee thought would be rewarded when General Motors Corp. in May started advising dealers nationwide who was in and who was out.
But to his dismay, Agee was pink-slipped, which ends a run of 85 years for Hiway Garage as a Chevy dealership.
One vehicle – a compact Cobalt – remains on the lot.
“We’ve been taking care of customers forever. It’s a kick in the belly” we won’t be able to do that, said the 72-year-old Agee, whose father bought the garage in 1949. “We didn’t push cars. … We don’t sit here and hammer them from one guy to the other like a lot of the big dealers.”
GM notified about 1,100 dealers, or nearly 20 percent of its U.S. network, that it would not renew their contracts when they expire in 2010.
Hiway Garage wasn’t a high-volume dealership – 10 sales was a good month – but it was the only one in about an 80-mile radius. Now folks in the Fall River Valley will have to drive to Redding or Alturas to buy a new vehicle.
“We are just down-home people. We do what has to be done. We don’t try to sell you the whole store,” Agee said.
Hiway Garage will continue selling gasoline, doing repair work and offering tow service.
“He was pretty pissed; he wasn’t in a good mood for about two weeks,” Agee’s 44-year-old son, David, said. “It was a shocker to him. He was hoping they would (renew) because of how far he is out here.”
When Lawrence Agee took over the Hiway Garage in 1959 after his father, Lester, died of cancer, he was the youngest owner of a Chevy dealership in the West.
Residents of the Fall River Valley over the years have embraced Agee and his family. His allegiance to his customers and the community hasn’t gone unnoticed.
When word spread that GM would not renew Hiway Garage’s franchise agreement, letters urging the company to reconsider were sent out.
“It seems to us that appreciation could be best demonstrated by not closing what is more than a Chevrolet dealership here, but rather an historic institution that feels more like family than just simply a business,” Denise Rouse of Bieber wrote.
“Hiway Garage is an essential part of the Fall River Valley with its unstinting support of all social service groups within our community,” wrote Ed Siegel, president of the Fall River Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Ironically, Agee stopped selling Chevrolets in 1978 after General Motors persuaded him to sell the business before bringing in somebody the company felt could pump up sales in the Intermountain region.
The experiment bombed. The Hiway Garage lost its Chevy franchise for a short stint; Agee had to foreclose on the property. It took him years to rebuild the business after taking it over again.
“These farmers and loggers are set in their ways. You don’t take care of them, you just lost their families and their friends,” Agee said in a 2004 Record Searchlight story.
Agee has no desire to pick up another franchise. He said he’s finished selling cars and trucks.
“I am getting too old to start all over again,” Agee said.
On a personal note, I have had the pleasure of meeting and doing business with the Agee family and they are very fine people. I hope the auto repair part of the business can keep them going and I urge everyone in my neck of the woods to do some business with them.
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