By Brett Wallace, Chronicle-Tribune
CONVERSE - Graham Ford in Converse is ending its operation after nearly 54 years in business.

Vice President Jon Thomas said the business liquidated its new-car inventory in late November, closed its service department earlier this month and is now trying to sell its final 21 remaining used vehicles.

"When you're not selling enough vehicles and servicing enough vehicles to turn a profit, it's just a decision you've got to make," Thomas said.

He said things have been sliding downward at the dealership since 2001 and that factory closings in the area have exacerbated the problem.
The decision was made by Thomas and his partner, Bart Fox, in late November.

He said the hardest part was how the decision affected the dealership's longtime employees, including a 40-year service technician, 33-year office manager, 30-year parts manager, 20-year service manager and others.

"It's one of the toughest decisions we've ever had to make," he said.

After the decision, Thomas said two other area Ford dealers, Southworth Ford Lincoln Mercury in Marion and Brad Howell Ford in Greentown, agreed to take Graham's remaining new-vehicle inventory off its hands.

Jeff Southworth, owner of the Marion dealership, said this type of consolidation is becoming more common for dealers of the Detroit automakers. He also cited Wyant Ford in Elwood, which also recently closed its doors.

He said the problem has been 14,000 U.S. dealerships selling cars for the Big Three, while competitors like Toyota (1,200 U.S. dealerships) and Honda (less than 1,000 U.S. dealerships) are competing against domestic automakers and not each other.

"We're used to dealers in any healthy-sized community," Southworth said. "As we move forward, that's probably not going to be the case."

Thomas said Graham Ford hopes to liquidate its remaining used vehicles by the end of this month if possible. It's currently searching for an auctioneer to help sell its land, building and tools, which Thomas said will probably happen in January or February.

Delmar Graham was awarded the dealership April 1, 1955, and eventually sold it to two longtime workers, Dick Fox and Windle Thomas, fathers of the current owners.

"Bart and I would both like to say thank you very much to everybody," Thomas said. "A lot of people have been loyal customers here for many years. We will not forget them."
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