The owner plans on expanding the Trumbull County building to keep up with demand.
By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
VIENNA -- Greg Sweet has been hanging around at car dealerships since he was 13, having grown up the son of a prominent New Castle, Pa., auto dealer. Now he's building his own collection of dealerships.
Sweet, who recently took over ownership of Airport Chevrolet here, also owns Greg Sweet Ford-Lincoln-Mercury and Greg Sweet Chevrolet-Buick-Oldsmobile-Pontiac, both in Ashtabula County.
He's a partner in Mark Thomas Ford in Cortland but expects his co-owners to buy him out of that dealership soon.
Sweet said his newest acquisition, Airport Chevrolet, is among the oldest car dealerships in the country. Originally known as Viets Motor Co., the building at 4363 Warren-Sharon Road started as a Ford dealership in the 1920s, then switched to Chevrolet a few years later.
"I've been told they used to have a barber chair, a pool table and a Chevy," he said, smiling. "You could get your hair cut, play pool and buy a car. They sold gas outside, too."
Keeping the name
The dealership has had three names since it was founded, Sweet said, so he decided to retain the name Airport Chevrolet. Officially, the business is Greg Sweet's Airport Chevrolet.
Previous owners have added on and modernized the building several times, but Sweet said he's making plans to more than double its service area within the next two years to keep up with a growing demand.
The dealership employs 17, but he expects to increase that number to 25 when the expansion is complete.
Bill Davis, a longtime friend of Sweet's with 25 years' experience in the auto business, is the dealership's executive manager.
"We share the same customer satisfaction philosophy," Davis said. "We agree that if you take care of the customer, the business will always be successful. That's what we do here. We work to have long-term relationships with our customers."
Airport Chevrolet attracts plenty of customers despite its rural setting, Sweet said, because it offers a low-key selling atmosphere. "It's low pressure, nonconfrontational," he said. "We like to sell a car and make a friend, too."In the family
The auto business came naturally for Sweet, whose father, Al, operated a large western Pennsylvania dealership selling General Motors and Toyota vehicles for many years.
He started working at his father's business at 13, earning $1 an hour "doing all the jobs nobody else would do," he said. By the age of 18, he'd sold his first car, an English-made Ford Cortina for $300.
Sweet worked for his father for 17 years, but they parted ways after a disagreement between them in 1986. The younger Sweet tried working for someone else, but by 1989 he'd bought his first auto dealership in Conneaut, living in an apartment above the business to help make ends meet.
Now 45, he lives in Ashtabula County in a house overlooking Lake Erie with his wife, Lori, and children Dylan, 8, and Morgan, 2. As the operator of both Ford and General Motors dealerships, he diplomatically avoids expressing a preference.
"Right now, today, Chevrolet has absolutely the best products around," he quipped, "but that's because I'm not at the Ford store."