Darrell Phelps of Phelps Chevrolet said the dealership at 3325 S. Memorial Drive has been “a family affair” for almost 52 years.
“My father, Waverly Phelps, opened the dealership in November 1965,” Phelps said. “He ran a used car lot in Columbia before that. My father ran the dealership for almost 48 years and my brother and I have run it for many years. Now my sons are taking over a lot of the day-to-day operations so we are in our third generation here.
“It’s a good thing our family gets along,” Phelps said laughing. “We spend a lot of time together.”
However, working at the dealership isn’t just a family tradition for the Phelps family.
“My family is in its third generation here,” Earl Dixon said. “My father, James Dixon, worked here and both myself and my brother Chris work here as well as my brother’s son, Keith. We all love working here.”
“It’s kind of cool to be a third-generation employee,” Keith Dixon said. “The Phelps are great people to work for … which is obvious since we all keep coming here to work.”
Phelps credits employees like the Dixons as his “secret weapon” to Phelps Chevrolet’s continued success during the past 52 years.
“We’ve been blessed that we have had so little turnover through the years,” Phelps said. “We have had so many people that came to work for us and stayed with us until they retired.
“And that is the real secret … the people here,” he said. “When people are buying a car they aren’t just buying from the Phelps name … they are buying from people that they know and trust and we are so fortunate to have those kind of people here.”
Phelps said that out of the numerous makes and models of Chevrolets produced through the years, one has always stood out in his mind as the best.
“The K5 Blazer was always my favorite,” Phelps said of the SUV that became the Tahoe in 1995. “A lot of people think of the Corvette or Camaro as Chevy’s flagship cars … but I think the K5 was the one I liked the best. I drove one for many years myself.”
However, Phelps said he has been “amazed” at the technological evolution of the automobile industry since his father opened in 1965.
“The quality is so much better today,” he said. “Back in the 1970s, a car would get between 80,000 and 100,000 miles and trucks could about 150,000 to 200,000 miles before you would need a new one. Now cars can get between 150,000 and 200,000 miles and trucks can get more than 300,000 miles with no real problem.”
But the improvements in automobiles are not only limited to Chevrolets, Phelps said.
“The competition’s cars have gotten better too,” Phelps said. “All the cars out there are pretty good.”
There also are more automobile companies to choose from today, Phelps said.
“When we started in 1965 … Honda, Toyota, Mazda and a lot of these manufacturers were not around,” he said. “That has been the biggest challenge through the years is staying competetive in an ever-expanding market.”
Original cash register at Phelps Chevrolet.
The original lot at Phelps Chevrolet.
However – despite the expanding market – Phelps said that the dealership also has been blessed with “the most loyal customers.”
“There is a man that bought his first car from my father about a month after he opened in 1965,” Phelps said. “He was just here last week buying a new car. In the past 52 years, he has never bought a car from anywhere else.
“Loyalty like that is a blessing,” he said. “Our customers are like family too.”