Smith family sells former car dealerships
PLANT CITY - Once, the property was home to one of the oldest car dealerships in town. Soon, the place where buyers could shop for new and used Chryslers, Dodges and Jeeps will become a convenience store and equipment center. B.M. "Mac" Smith Jr., whose family got into the car business in 1943, recently announced the sale of the 10 acres at South Collins Street and Park Road. "It's is sad to see," said Greater Plant City Chamber of Commerce President Marion Smith, who worked with her father at the dealerships for more than 30 years.The former Jeep dealership at the corner will be torn down and replaced by a 20-pump RaceTrac convenience store. The nearby building where Chryslers and Dodges were sold is being remodeled for a Ditch Witch equipment center. Smith's father founded B.M. Smith Motors Inc. during World War II at 1007 W. Haines St., now Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Mac Smith, 83, joined his dad in the business in 1958, following 10 years in the Navy as an active-duty pilot. The dealership moved to Collins Street and Park Road in 1964, when it started selling American Motors vehicles. A grand opening celebration attracted about 7,000 visitors who downed 11,000 pounds of barbecue, Smith said. At one time, Plant City had about a half-dozen new car dealers, who once a year blocked off part of Collins Street downtown and staged a car show, Smith said. The number dwindled over the years, and now there are just two new car dealers left in the city: Jarrett-Scott Ford and Stingray Chevrolet. The Smiths' second dealership, operated by Marion, opened in 1988, selling Dodge, Chrysler and Plymouth vehicles. Several family members worked at one or both of the dealerships over the years. Even Mac Smith's mother, Rozale, lent a helping hand, sometimes designing newspaper advertisements featuring nursery rhymes altered to fit the car business, such as this one for the 1974 AMC Javelin sports car: "Tom, Tom the piper's son Wanted a car that would really run A new JAVELIN made his speed increase But now he has trouble with the police!" The family leased the two dealerships in 2001, when Mac Smith retired from the car business and Marion Smith took the job as head of the Chamber of Commerce. The two dealerships continued, first under one company and then another, Mac Smith said. The final company to lease the property, Ferman, stopped selling cars there about two years ago, he said. Marion Smith said she held out little hope that the site would continue as car dealerships, adding that she'll probably shed a tear when the old Jeep dealership is razed. Mac Smith said he enjoyed the car business and that he's taking away many happy memories. "I enjoy people. We really had a good product, and I like to sell," he said. "The community was always really good to us, and I got to know a lot of people."
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