Thomas Garage plans big expansion

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Thomas Chrysler Dodge Jeep will soon be on the move and growing.

The 94-year-old business isn’t moving too far, but will soon be offering more service and a bigger selection while bringing business back to an empty store location outside the Ohio Valley Mall.

Recently, the family owned business closed the deal to get the former Roomful Express Furniture Store building, and they plan to open at the new locations sometime by late spring 2012.

“I think it’s a good opportunity for us. The location I believe, is excellent, and the building is big,” said Brian Thomas, general manager, Thomas Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep.

The move has already been approved by Chrysler but some the details about how the building will be set up are still in the works. Right now, Thomas said there will be a 22 bays in the service department and a 40 car show room inside the more than 46,000 square foot building. Cars for sale will also be on lot. There is also going to be a 5,000-square-feet parts department and an express oil change.

“Our big thing is going to be putting that shop in there,” Thomas said. “Anybody can move in that building that is retail, except for us, because we have to put a lot of stuff in there to make it work. We’ve got some rough ideas and plans, but want to make sure everything is going to flow together.”

It will also mean more jobs for the Ohio Valley. Robert Thomas said they will need to hire more sales people and certified technicians. Currently they employee about 25 people total.

“We’ll need sales people right away,” he said. “We are already looking for ASCI certified technicians. They are the hard thing to come by.”

He also said the location will be better for the customers. People can be shuttled to the Ohio Valley Mall or any of the nearby restaurants while waiting for their vehicle. It can also be a benefit for those traveling on the Interstate.”

“For some reason, anybody that travels, when they break down in this area, we see them,” he said. “With the (hotel) next door, that will be a big help for people that break down. And I think it will be a better experience for our customers and for all the employees. Plus everything will be on one floor.”

The new location will also be set up for the service department to work on heavy duty trucks and alignments.

“We are going to have service drive where people can drive up and the door will sense that they are there and open,” Robert said. “So it will keep the customers out of the weather and from there, the technicians will take the car into the shop.”

The building will also be more user friendly. A Bay in the back will make it easier to unload parts trucks.

“It’s taken four generations to be able to do what we are doing now,” said Harland Thomas, who took over the business from his father, Ira. Harland is Brian’s and Robert’s father. “It’s taken a lot of hard work by everybody and the community that has supported us.”

Thomas Garage got it’s start back in 1917 when Lafayette Thomas and his son, Ira (Harland’s father), opened it as a horse and auto livery.

At first, they sold Star, Durant and Stutz Bearcat.

As things changed, they started to sell Nash and Buick, but a law in Ohio wouldn’t allow two car manufactures to be under one roof, so the Buick line was sold off and Ira kept the Nash line, because it was outselling Buicks, which ultimately led to the dealership selling Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep today.

“Everything kept getting bought out,” Harland said. “Nash derived into Rambler Rambler became part of American Motors then American Motors had the Renault connection. Then Chrysler bought out American Motors … It’s just by being with Nash that we are with Chrysler today.”

Harland took over the business when he was 19, and at that time, he was the “parts guy,” salesman, body man, service man and even tow truck driver. That’s how Brian and Robert got involved it the business, sweeping floors and taking out trash and even manning the shop phone at their home.

“Now is different because we all have cell phones, but then, we had to take turns and stick around at home on weekends and listen for tow calls,” Brian said.

“We pretty much worked our way through and both got into sales and then concentrated on running the dealership,” Robert said.

But Brian said the key to their success has been the dedication of the employees.

“Without them we wouldn’t be here,” he said. “It kind of hard to do it by yourself.”

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