Reynolds: Four Generations Strong

Orange County Review inSIDEr, March 26, 2009

Tom and Kevin Reynolds have never forgotten that day in 1976, when their Dad, Chester, sold the last Cadillac convertible ever made. It was a white El Dorado, Bicentennial edition with white leather interior and patriotic red, white and blue piping. This is the biggest car Cadillac ever made. They still have one in a different color in the back, a reminder of the now long gone era of the big American car. The hood on this thing goes on for a couple of miles. Heaven knows what it weighs. It has a 500 cubicinch engine and gets eight miles to the gallon. But heck, back then, gasoline cost, what, maybe 50 cents?

C h e s t e r Reynolds sold the Bicentennial car to a stranger over the phone for $12,000 more than its suggested retail price of $14,000. Within  hours, before the new owner could even pick it up and pay for it, someone called and offered Chester $32,000 for the same car. Both sons, who had just joined the dealership full time, urged him to take the better offer.

"Hell no," retorted Chester. "I'll never forget it," says Tom. "He didn't even know the guy. But he'd given him his word on the phone, and that was it. It made such an impression on me how your word is your word. I was just getting out of college and he said that?He believed that if you told somebody something you could bank on it."

Maybe Chester learned that principle from his Dad, Jack, who arrived here with his Mom, Daisy Mason Reynolds and two tykes, Chester and Roy, from Botetourt County at the beginning of the Great Depression. And here's something that sounds hauntingly familiar; Jack lost his job with the power company in 1929. He found work pumping gas at a Shell station on Madison Road. When the owner left, he took over the business, and moved it across the street to where Wayne Modena has his State Farm Insurance business today.

Then, with his sons beside him, Jack moved the business back across the street to where the McDonald's is today. By this point, they weren't just pumping gas; they were fixing up old cars and selling them. Then Pearl Harbor got in the way. Both Chester and Roy upped with the Air Force, returning in 1945. By this point a man by the name of Hay Taylor from Madison County would bring cars to Chester to sell?one at a time. "That's how he got started. As soon as he got it, he'd sell it," says Tom.
Chester married the former Frances Lonergan in 1946 and was awarded the Pontiac dealer's franchise two years later. He obviously had a knack for selling cars because of the 132 Pontiac dealers in the Washington region at that time, Reynolds was ranked 13th! By now, the dealership was located where the service department is today. You can still see remnants of the original showroom floor tile in the work bay closest to the door.

Since then, they bought the Gilbert Implements building on one side (today's showroom) and Wyatt Williams' Buick dealership on the left, which now houses the body shop. Currently, the Reynolds compound includes more buildings, a huge parking lot out back, that little lot right across the street, and a satellite unit at Colonial Square.

Cadillac awarded its franchise to Reynolds in 1952. "Dad was an incredible salesman, had a lot of charisma, very well liked," says Tom. He also liked to have fun... sometimes too much fun. He and Citizen's National Bank President, Buck Early worked hand in glove. "Dad would sell 'em and Buck would finance 'em. They were a team," say Kevin. "They were buddies and it got compounded when they started drinking," says Tom soberly. "They would go out and they thought they had no limitations and sometimes they'd leave town and they wouldn't come back for two or three days or maybe a week."
Both of Chester's sons, started working at the dealership in their early teens. In fact, Tom says, "Kevin at a very early age, as his little brother, I could tell he was going to be in the car business." Kevin even remembers the first car he ever sold; he was being ferried to a swim meet by Mrs. Jack Samuels. "And I told her she should have a Cadillac... Dad did the figures, but I was instrumental in getting the job done... I was 12-years old." Son John has an identical story; he sold his orthodontist a '91 Cadillac Sedan de Ville when he was 13!

Tom and Kevin were destined to run the business together. But don't they disagree every now and then? "They defer to me," wisecracks John, prompting a big laugh all around. Kevin, who has pretty much been the salesman all along, refers to his brother as "the rock of this business. He just keeps everything under control."

Tom counters, "Of course we've had arguments because we're brothers, but basically we get along very well because our goals are the same... If we didn't have the same goals, we wouldn't be able to work together." Tom looks over at his brother. "I wouldn't be partners with anybody else but him."