BERLIN — The Walker family’s 66-year run selling cars in central Vermont ended quietly on Thursday when the Vermont-owned Autosaver Group added another dealership and two more brands — Volkswagen and Mazda — to its expanding inventory.
Wade Walker, the long-time owner of a business his grandfather, Rufus, started in Rutland and his well-known dad, Don, brought to Montpelier in 1953, announced the then-pending sale of Walker Motors’ last dealership in a Facebook post Wednesday night.
“Tomorrow I transfer ownership to the Autosaver Group,” Walker wrote, adding: “The group are Vermonters and very good people. Please give them a chance to prove themselves.”
In the post, Walker, 62, thanked his employees and customers for their support, his wife, Carolyn and children, Geoffrey, Nathaniel, and Lindsay for their indulgence, and his father and grandfather for their hard work and inspiration. He also offered a shout out to his “mentor, Marvin Smith, his partner, Mike Nicastro, and his sister, Megan Picard, who is retiring and has served as the dealership’s longtime office manager.
The post went up Wednesday night, the deal went off with out a hitch on Thursday and on Friday – after the Walker name was covered with a banner announcing the arrival of Capitol City Imports – Wade Walker acknowledged an era had ended.
“There’s no longer a ‘Walker’ dealership, in name, in the area,” he said, noting Thursday’s sale snapped that started in 1953 when he father and grandfather abandoned the used car business they’d opened the year before in Rutland to take to start a Ford franchise in Montpelier.
“It became available,” Walker said, explaining his dad, now 92, eagerly accepted the offer and the his grandfather, who died in 1967, went along for the ride.
The father-and-son team initially commuted from Rutland, before settling in Montpelier, according to Walker, who said the dealership picked up a Jeep franchise in 1964 and he joined his father in the business 10 years later.
“I’ve been at this 45 years,” said Walker, who took over the family business when his father retired in 1992 and expanded by acquiring a second dealership just down the Barre-Montpelier Road three years later.
Walker successfully ran both dealerships – one selling Fords and Jeeps at the since reconfigured intersection of River Street and the Barre-Montpelier Road in Montpelier and the other selling Volkswagens and Mazdas at the base of the Berlin State Highway in neighboring Berlin – until 2009.
Walker lost the Jeep franchise that year and promptly sold the Ford dealership and the real estate to Formula Ford.
Over the next five years Walker bought and then remodeled the building that had long-housed his Volkswagen and Mazda dealership – the one he sold to Abel Toll’s Autosaver Group on Thursday.
“I’m feeling good about it,” said Walker, who, with the help of his bookkeeping sister is winding down Walker Motors in a makeshift office they’ve established in his father’s Montpelier home.
Once that work is done, Walker said he’ll fly back to Seattle where he moved 16 months ago to be closer to all three – two of whom live in Seattle and the third who lives in Portland, as well as his 13-month-old granddaughter, Hazel.
Hazel’s looming arrival precipitated the move and arguably accelerated Thursday’s sale.
“My wife said: ‘We’re moving,’ and my answer was: ‘When?’” he recalled.
Enter Toll, who expressed interest in acquiring Walker’s dealership through a broker and the two were able to negotiate a deal that leaves Walker with the real estate he’ll soon be looking to sell and a tenant he has promised to accommodate and Toll with a new franchise and a temporary home while he pursues a project that will facilitate its eventual move.
“It was a good thing for us and I believe it’s going to be a great thing for him,” Walker said of Toll, who now has 14 dealerships in Vermont, New Hampshire and New York as part of his Autosaver Group.
Toll said Friday he is actively working on a plan to consolidate two of those dealerships. Both, he said, are located in Berlin and he just acquired one of them.
Toll said he plans to build a bigger building with a larger showroom and more storage bays across Route 2 from his Capitol City Buick GMC dealership and move Capitol City Imports to that location. It isn’t an overnight endeavor and he said it will likely take at least two years to obtain necessary permits and construct a new facility.
“That’s the ultimate plan,” he said.
Toll, who also owns nearby Capitol City Kia, said that dealership, which is located on Route 2 at the base of Gallison Hill Road in Montpelier would remain where it is.
So – at least for the foreseeable future – will Capitol City Imports.
Toll described the business he bought from Walker as an enticing dealership with “two great products” – Volkswagen and Mazda – and room to grow.
“While the Walkers were doing a good job we think we can increase the volume,” he said, noting not much besides the familiar name will change in the near term.
The dealership employs more than two dozen people and Toll said all were offered jobs and almost all of them have agreed to stay.
Toll said that should be good-news-better-news for Walker’s well-cultivated customer base.
“They’re going to recognize the faces when the walk in the door, but they’re going to have a lot more selection,” he said.