JOHNSTOWN - It started with a Texaco gas station and an Edsel dealership. Now, it is one of the most visible businesses on North Comrie Avenue.
The gas station is gone, but 56 years later, the Brown family is still in business, running Brown's Ford of Johnstown. On Aug. 28, the dealership celebrated its 50th anniversary in Johnstown.
Through several recessions and oil crunches, the business still stands tall.
From left, owners Derek Brown, Richard Brown, Seth Brown, service manager of the Amsterdam location, and owner Jeff Brown are shown outside the dealership in Johnstown on Thursday.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
"We have loyal customers and the staff here are great people to work with," said Jeff Brown, who runs the business with his brother, Derek. Jeff Brown oversees the sales department, while Derek handles the service end.
Their father, Richard, opened the business with his brothers, Robert and Raymond Brown, on Aug. 28, 1961, after Edsel ckosed, Richard Brown signed the documents to obtain the Ford franchise.
"At that time, competition in Fulton County was very fierce," Jeff Brown said. "there were 15 dealers in April 1964."
Brown said Ford was struggling in the early 1960s until the Mustang was unveiled in 1965, which he said was an "instant success." Also in 1965, Ford developed the twin I-beam suspension for its trucks, which Brown said made the ride smoother.
"We've been selling trucks ever since," he said.
At that time, Brown's Ford was operating out of a very small building on North Comrie Avenue, but success in the 1960s gave the business the opportunity to expand its Service Department in the form of a 20-bay center behind the sales building.
While the business had success in the late '60s, the 1970s brought new challenges.
Brown said, "1979 and 1980 was a difficult year for us. There was high inflation; dealers were dropping right and left. Actually, the recession in 2007 and 2008 is every bit as bad as the late 1970s."
However, the business was able to withstand both recessions.
"It all comes down to product," Brown said. "We've just got a fabulous product and that makes our jobs easier."
In 1997, the business expanded when the Brown family purchased a Ford dealership on Route 30 in Perth, which became Brown's Ford of Amsterdam.
In 2009, the Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce & Industry honored Brown's Ford and several other area car dealerships for surviving the recession in 2007 and 2008. Several other dealerships in the area weren't so fortunate and closed.
While at that time, the family had been in the car dealership business for more than 50 years, the Ford franchise had not yet reached its golden anniversary.
"We were very proud in 2009 when we recognized Brown's Ford, along with others because they have weathered the storm of the economic storm," chamber President Wally Hart said. "That's five decades of ups and downs to continue to provide employment and contribute to the community."
Hart also touted the family's contribution to the community. Currently, the auto group is sponsoring a "ton of bricks" fundraiser to raise money for those affected by Tropical Storms Irene and Lee.
"These are people that serve on numerous boards, are active in community, not just taking, but they give generously and have been generous with time and money to this community in many, many ways," Hart said.
At one time, there were seven family members working at Brown's Ford. Now, there are four, including Jeff and Derek Brown. Derek's wife, Megan, runs human resources and their cousin Seth is the service manager in Amsterdam.
Although Richard Brown is no longer involved in day-to-day operations, he still makes frequent appearances.
"We talk business all the time," Jeff Brown said. "Tons of people are still asking about him."
Both Jeff and Derek have been involved with the business since 1984.
"Our father had us working all the time," Jeff Brown said. "He kept us out of trouble."
Through the changes in the business, which include the Internet, which Jeff Brown said has made the business more transparent, the company remains dedicated to service. Cars, he said, are being made better and are lasting longer, and if that causes them to sell fewer cars, the money is made up by servicing customers' cars.
However, he said, the business remains about the customer.
"We know our customers and our customers know us," he said. "Every day, we try to make sure people are happy with their vehicles and happy with us."
Mike Zummo is the business editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.