What's the oldest auto dealership in America?
It could be Normandin's Chrysler Plymouth Jeep in San Jose, CA.
That store's roots date to 1875, two decades before the advent of the American auto industry.
The business dates to the horse-and-buggy days. Indeed, founder Amable Normandin, a blacksmith and sleigh maker from Montreal, opened it as a buggy-making shop.
In 1906, the company expanded to include the sale of horseless carriages. The first franchise, Franklin, came along in 1915. An original Franklin car is in the showroom today. An original Normandin buggy, built in 1882, graces the roof of the modern building.
The dealership over the years sold - and outlasted - a number of car makes, including Hupmobiles, Saxons and Hillmans.
In 1933, the store obtained a DeSoto-Plymouth franchise from Chrysler Corp. The Chrysler line replaced ill-fated DeSoto in 1958.
A fifth generation of Normandins now run the dealership, which is at its fourth location on a 10-acre spread on the Capitol Expressway Auto Mall.
Of course, they didn't have expressways or auto malls back in 1875. But they certainly had the entrepreneurial spirit that led to the founding of such a venerable dealership.
That spirit seems to be a constant throughout the life of the business, now housed in a thoroughly modern building.
For instance, second-generation owner Louis Normandin sold all his stock before the stock market crash of 1929 and reinvested it elsewhere, such as real estate.
Fourth-generation owner Lon Normandin, during Chrysler Corp.'s dark financial days of the early 1980s, was among a select group of Chrysler dealers who traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress to support the automaker's recovery plan.
Lon is now chairman of the board. His two sons are the current generation of Normandins running the dealership, Mark as president and general manager, Paul as general sales manager.
They represent that new breed of dealers who are both well educated and well experienced. Both brothers hold college degrees in business. Both have held a cross-section of jobs at the store.
Mark has two boys and a girl, Paul a baby son. Wonder if those kids will be running the dealership some day?