By Jasmine Willis
WAYLAND — It all started with a war hero and his brother once the battle was over and the call home had come to order.
Guy and Homer Bennett started Bennett Bros. on the triangular corner off Washington Street in 1919. It was an auto repair shop to start, but soon became so much more. Once the brothers were able to build, they got what you see today when you travel down South Lackawanna Street. Bennett Bros. 1921 remains on the brick outside the building as you enter its walls. In 1922 the brothers began their journey with Buick. It all started with the Sampson Tractors.
Bennett’s Chevrolet Buick Inc. is what it became known as for generations to come. The 97-year-old testimony to local auto dealership will stand as a reminder of what was for three generations of the Bennett Family.
On Dec. 19 Assemblywoman Marjorie Byrnes, Community Liaison Mike Palmesano, and the Bennett Family all came together to honor 100 years of history.
“We took a tour of the area and we saw where you have done all of the work. It really is incredible you have been in the same location for these many years. You have done 100 years in all, and you have to be beyond proud for everything you and your families have done. My dad used to have his own business, he had a piano store in the city. You knew even when it was holidays or school events that dad had to work. I am sure that happened here, because when you own your own business, that is family owned and operated, you got to make sacrifices to your family," She said. "It is clear that to every one of you your hearts and souls have been into this business. Even though it is a little bit sad that it is all coming to an end; I think you can be rest assured that well this chapter is over, that this building you built in 1921 is going to be in good hands. The Springwater and Wayland Ambulance will be carrying on with the traditions of the building itself. It is not going to disappear. It is not going to be another one of the unfortunate abandoned buildings we see in our communities.”
The heartbreaking news came to the family on Oct. 31 from General Motors that the dealership was terminated. On Nov. 1 a wealthy Italian man named Nicola Bulgari showed up at the dealership with an interesting request. He had a photographer named Jed Rapoport take photos of the family and dealership. On Dec. 19 Guy Jr and AnitaBennett received the photo book in the mail as a gift from Bulgari. Bulgari collects Buicks in his Allentown Museum and Rome.
“When my dad came home from the war, he started this business with his little brother. They were at the garage on the corner until business got to be successful and the rent went up to high. He and my Uncle Homer looked to build their own business after that and built Bennett Bros. in 1921. My dad had a two-car garage he worked out of down the road until this place was built,” Guy Jr. said. “I came back in 1953 after getting a Mechanical Engineer degree at Rochester University. I worked for General Electric in Rochester for a few years, but Anitra and I didn’t like the city. We wanted to come back to Wayland and raise our children here. My wife said it was a big change for us, but we will make it work one way or another.”
Guy Jr. worked with his dad in the grease shop for that first year back home. One day a regular customer came in looking for a fancy new car. Peter Schumacher, owner of the Larrowe Mills, came in and purchased vehicles all the time from the Bennett Bros.
“My dad and uncle were at a Buick meeting in Buffalo went Pete Schumacher came in. He came into that garage looking for a 1953 Roadster. We had a brand new one terries green in the lower level. Pete took one look at the car and loved it. He asked me how much it was, but I had never sold a car before. I told him dad and Uncle Homer were at a meeting and would be back tomorrow,” he said. “Pete said we had a problem since he wanted to buy that car now, so I told him he was a good customer with us, and he had spent good money here, so he probably knows how much this car is worth. Pete gave us a good deal on the car, and I made my very first sale. When dad came back home, he was very happy and made me a salesperson.”
Guy Jr. mentioned how he and his dad would go door to door in those days before computers. They would each have a case with the dealership book, colors, and prices ready in hand as they knocked on those doors.
Uncle Homer left the business the same year Guy Jr. became a salesperson and it was father and son against the world for many years. Guy Jr. would go on to bring his sons, Jim and Guy Brooks on board making it a three-generation business.
“I made my last retail sale. It was a 2018 Silverado to a regular customer. We have three vehicles at the auction. I have been doing these sales for 40 years now with my dad. I started out washing cars when I was 12 years old. I started selling cars when I was 20 years old,” Jim said. “We are storing 100 years worth of history at our places right now. I have cars stored at my place, and dad has plenty of cars stored at his. Guy Brooks is getting the 1937 Buick and the 1965 Skylark stored at his place. We still have tons to get out of the basement and the attic. Our last day here is Dec. 31 but we will need at least six months to get it all out of here. The Springwater and Wayland Ambulance will get to move in about Jan. 3.”
Jim said his brother bought the 1965 Skylark at a good price about 40 years ago, and it has been stored in the basement ever since. The journey of getting everything transported to the various locations has been a bittersweet moment for them. The ambulance has an agreement with the family not to change too much about the historic dealership. There will be some showers and sleeping areas put in since it needs to be in code for the ambulance.
“My grandpa loved this place. He would always sit in his chair and drink coffee as he told people all these stories. He remembered what this place was like when it was the horse and buggy days, and outside was brick roads. He did a tool shop business in here during WWII when they were just building planes and engines. Grandpa did that to keep the business alive. My great-grandparents sold their farm to give their son the money for this shop, so I think he felt like he owed them. He was 26 years old when he had this building in 1921, and he stayed in it every day until he passed at 103 years old,” Jim said. “We didn’t want to leave the building vacant. It is hard enough to drive by and see it all closed up. In this current world the building was not up to code for any other dealership to come in here, and we didn’t want to lose the identity of the place. We think that the ambulance will be a good fit here.”
Jim added the family is lucky they survived the big General Motors bankruptcy in 2009, and were around 15 years longer than the other four dealerships in Wayland.
Guy Brooks worked 48 years with his dad in the dealership as the repair man. He said this
was the only job he ever had in his life.
“This is the only job I ever had. I spent most of my time in the back working in the repair shop. I used to wash cars and sweep the lower level every Saturday,” he said. “We are not allowed to take our uniforms with us unless we pay for them. I have worn the same thing for over 40 years and now I have to pay to keep it.”
Guy Jr. said his dad would come in every single day and sit in his big plush rocker talking to customers who would come through the door.
“He was a really good dad. He loved to share stories with customers. I always respected my mom and dad. The whole time we were in business together we never had one argument,” he said. “My dad was in the service in 1917. He really wanted to fly planes, but since he worked at the American Canning Company at home, they put him on as an automobile mechanic. Every community in that time period had their own canning factory. My dad hated that he had to stay on the ground fixing stuff, but that saved his life in the war.”
“I look up at these photos of these two young boys (his dad and uncle in 1920s) on the wall every day. They wouldn’t believe what I got myself into now,” Guy Jr said. “If these walls could talk the stories, they could tell you. I am very proud we have been here for 100 years. I still have something to hang onto. We were the soul survivors of the auto dealerships in Wayland. I never met a Buick I didn’t like.”
Guy Jr. said the office became his once his father no longer had use for it. Once computers came into existence, they no longer went door to door in the field. It was a huge change for the Bennett Family, but they made it work out in the end.
Anita talked about working at the dealership for 25 years, which is a right of passage for the wives. Heidi Bennett, Guy Brooks’ wife worked at the shop for 10 years before it closed down.
“I remember when we transitioned from the old crank cash register to the newer model. Guy’s father did not like that one bit. He sat in his plush rocker as the tech guy brought in the new register going on about how he wouldn’t be able to handle this new register. The tech guy told him the new register is so easy anyone who can fly a plane will be able to use it. That was the last time we heard his dad complain about the register,” she said.
The ambulance will be working with the Wayland Historical Society to make a tribute to the Bennett Family 100 Years history in the front room. There is also talk of getting the building on the historic register.
The Season’s Greetings Sign hanging over the front room comes from the time the family got the 1930 Buick in the showroom. In 1970 they got a 1970 Buick and the children all piled inside of it. This place truly was a second home for the Bennett Family.
Clair Ferry worked at the dealership until he and his wife Hope got the Dodge Dealership down the block. Every winter old Clair Ferry would hook up the triangle plow to his truck and plow the streets for free. Guy Jr. recalled being on that plow in his childhood before school would start, and growing up with the Ferry children, Nathan and Janet. Jim and Guy Brooks grew up with the Ferry grandkids. The Ferry Family and Bennett Family remained close for many years.
It was a family project keeping the dealership maintained that started all the way back with Guy Sr. and his father, Burt Bennett. Burt would come in and sweep up the floors every day as he kept the place tidy. He would glare at customers if they came in with cigarettes on his freshly swept floors.
Guy Jr. recalled the love he had for his mother, Mildred Elizabeth Bennett who passed away from cancer in 1950. He had gotten a promise from his dad that after graduation he would get a new car of his choice. He got his 1950 Buick Roadster early when his mother was diagnosed with cancer, and they took her down to Florida in that new car. Anita and Guy Jr. got married that same year with help from his older sister, Marian. Anita wore Marian’s wedding dress that was fixed up by Mildred. They got married on Feb.3 1950 and his mother passed away on Feb. 8 1950.
Heidi said she thought she would be a bookkeeper at the dealership for the rest of her life. It will take a long time to collect and organize 100 years of history.
“My husband and his family have 100 years of things they want to hold onto in this building. It is being kept in garages, barns, and storage spaces in all our homes. Guy Jr. has all these cars in museums and his own home,” she said. “When the other bookkeeper retired after 27 years working here and I took over it was a big thing for me. I really felt like I would spend the rest of my life working here. Now we are closing our doors on 100 years of history.”