Hamilton Nissan is the kind of place where people stop by to chat and where second-generation ownership does business the old-fashioned way -- with a phone call thanking people for buying their product.
For decades, the Hamilton family has sold cars. That wasn't the plan more than 50 years ago, when William C. Hamilton, born and raised in Washington County, was working as a lawyer. But in 1957, Hamilton shifted gears and decided to invest in the local Lincoln-Mercury franchise, Antietam Motors.
It didn't take long for him to realize the car business was something he enjoyed. He had found his true calling in life.
"He never regretted his career change. Not for a second," said his son, Derek Hamilton. "He's a businessman."
In 1961, with several years of dealership experience under his belt, William Hamilton decided to go solo and opened Hamilton Pontiac. It soon became Hamilton Pontiac-Cadillac, then grew to Hamilton Pontiac-Cadillac-Nissan.
In 1998, Hamilton sold the Pontiac and Cadillac franchise and the company became a Nissan-only dealership.
Growing up with a father who sold cars, it was only natural, Derek Hamilton said, that he and his brother, Rick, would catch the car bug too. "I have memories of my brother and I spending time at the business as children," Derek said. "Absolutely. And when we were old enough, we were put to work washing cars and doing odd jobs."
Today, the Hamilton brothers own the company that was built and nurtured by their father. Rick Hamilton is president. Derek Hamilton is vice president.
In 2006, the business expanded to Chambersburg, PA., where they opened a Hyundai dealership.
Recently, Hamilton Nissan was recognized by Nissan North America for being a 40-year Nissan Dealer. "It's quite and honor," Derek Hamilton said, "when you think about it, everybody today is being bought out by big companies. For the business to stay in the same family all these years, it's quite an accomplishment."
Derek Hamilton attributes the company's success to staying true to this fathers principles. "We're still a family-owned operation that earns people's trust," he said. "I call every person who buys a car from us, thanking them for their business. We also do a lot of repeat and referral business. And because those people have been coming here for years, we get to know our customers on a first-name basis. Everything is so impersonal today. That's not who we are."
Derek said the company received a plaque when the company reached the 30-year mark. So he know where the 40-year plaque will hand. "It will be right next to the previous plaque prominently displayed outside my father's door," he said.
Article originally published on March 28, 2010 in The Herald Mail. Article by Marie Gilbert.