Long-time General Motors dealership closes

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Simon Martin

STOUFFVILLE, ONT. – It’s the end of an era for Giles Chevrolet. The longtime Stouffville car dealership will close up shop on Feb. 12.   

Owner Duncan Giles still remembers moving up to Stouffville from Toronto with his dad Ross Giles in 1959 to open the dealership. It was a very small town back than.

“Day 2 in town people were calling me by name,” he said.  A simple trip to the post office could turn into an hour-and-a-half affair after saying hello to everybody, Giles said.

It’s that small town family atmosphere that he prided his dealership on over the years. “We are a family operated business. Every employee is like family,” he said.

The community sits roughly 30 minutes north of Toronto to the east of highway 404.

The family decided it was time to move on. “We didn’t want to spend millions of dollars to put a new building up to appease General Motors,” Giles said.

The lot at Main Street and Ninth Line might be empty, but Giles’ heart is full from the public response after they learned of the dealership’s fate.

“This week, the phone has been ringing off the hook. We have had many people come in and thank us,” he said. “I want to thank not only our customers, but our community.”

While Giles is satisfied with how it all turned out, he will miss the customers and his staff.

Across the showroom, sits Mark Giles, Duncan’s son. His first memory of the dealership was playing in the showroom cars.

He loved the business so much he remembers showing up to Summitview Public School’s Halloween festivities as a car salesman. He said the public response this week has meant the world to the family.

“A lot of people have come through the front door to talk to us face to face. That means a lot,” he said.    

On cue, a longtime customer walked in the door to talk. She gave Duncan a hug.

“I don’t even know if he gives my mom a hug,” Mark laughed.

A story on the closure of the dealership on yorkregion.com, the Stouffville Sun-Tribune’s website, was read by thousands earlier this week. Several readers expressed surprise and sorrow over the news on the paper’s Facebook page.

Just next to Duncan’s desk is Gayle La Duca, who has been answering the phone at Giles Chevrolet for 19 years.

“I’m going to miss saying ‘it’s a great day at Giles’. I really am,” she said. “I loved my job and working as part of the Giles team. It’s very sad that it is all ending.”

It’s much the same story through the door into the service department, where Andrew Monovasios is finishing up a few last repairs.  “These were great people to work with,” he said.        

Cody Stokes was busy ordering a caliper for the car on the hoist.  “You just can’t beat that small town mentality here,” he said.   

A lot has changed in the car business since Duncan sold his first car in Stouffville, a 1960 four-door Bel Air. People used to trade cars much more quickly. Duncan remembers people coming from all over to see the new models when they were unveiled at the dealership.

“People just wanted to see what they looked like,” he said.

Now when the customer comes, Duncan said they usually have thoroughly researched the model they want on the Internet and often know more about the car than the salesperson.

The shifting landscape of the car industry almost swallowed Giles once. Back in 2009, GM had slated the Stouffville dealership for closure. But Duncan Giles wasn’t about to go quietly into the night. He along with 20 other GM owners decided they were not going to take GM’s marching orders and opted to fight to stay open.

An out-of-court settlement was eventually reached between GM of Canada and the dealership owners, which resulted in 13 of them remaining open under the company’s restructuring plan, including Giles. The other owners received additional compensation for closing.

It was final salvo for Duncan’s inner rebel. He didn’t like to do things by the book. When they leased a four-door Biscayne to the Stouffville police department during the 1960s, Duncan remembers taking it out for a spin when he serviced it, turning on the lights and pulling someone over.

“I walked up to them and said ‘now how are you doing?’,” he laughed.

Or maybe you had the misfortune of getting one of his business cards that simply said “my number” with a nine-digit phone number underneath.

After Duncan closes up shop tomorrow, it’s not like he will be hard to find. If you spot a purple truck in town and are still doubtful, he has a vanity plate that says GILES.

“I always say the best car is the car with my name on the back,” he said.   

A General Motors spokesperson referred The Sun-Tribune to Giles for comments.

- Stouffville Sun-Tribune