G. Stone and Fosters steeped in local history
MIDDLEBURY — The imminent purchase of Foster Motors by Todd Stone, owner of G. Stone Motors, signals a start of a new era for two dealerships that have a lot of history.
Gardner Stone, the patriarch of the business, is a self-proclaimed “motorhead” and self-made success story. Born and raised in Middlebury, he earned a degree in aircraft maintenance technology from Wentworth Institute in Boston, but found little market for his skills in his hometown.
“You couldn’t buy a job in 1962,” Gardner told the Independent during a 2017 interview. “I got a job peddling milk on Lake Dunmore.”
He loved cars and decided to sell them. He eventually landed at Beckwith Motors, which later became Shea Motors and now Denecker Chevrolet. He became its truck manager and also sold high-performance cars. But Gardner wanted to be his own boss and better provide for his family, so he started a used-car business in 1974, across Route 7 from the A&W Restaurant.
“I went down to the Chittenden Trust and borrowed every dime I could,” he recalled with a chuckle during that 2017 interview. “I had enough to buy four used cars and a little building next to Rosie’s Restaurant, and that’s where I started, right in the middle of an energy crisis.”
From those humble beginnings, G. Stone Motors expanded to take on the local Ford and GMC franchises during the 1980s, relocating to its current dealership headquarters at 36 Boardman St. in 1983. The company in 2003 added a commercial division — now owned and managed by Gardner’s daughter Darcy Stone — with a line of commercial and construction rental equipment and an expanded line of trailers of all types, as well as motorhomes.
The G. Stone mantra is ‘We Take Anything In Trade,” and it’s not a come-on. Gardner, Todd and Darcy starred in a television show called “Family Trade” that ran on the GSN network in 2013. The show followed the Stones as they bartered with customers wanting to trade everything from livestock to maple syrup to clinch deals for new vehicles.
It’s a formula that has worked for these past 45-plus years.
FOSTER MOTORS: A LOOK BACK
Foster Motors’ roots go back to 1924, when the dealership was founded under the name Persons and Foster Brothers as a repair shop for Model Ts. In 1936, it became the first Chrysler-Plymouth dealership in the area, but its real growth began after Scott and Dave Foster’s dad, Edward Foster, took the helm of the business in 1962. Ed Foster would go on to acquire the Dodge franchise in 1978, later adding Jeep and Ram.
The Fosters eventually expanded the business’s footprint along Route 7 to 8.5 acres, providing more room for new and used inventory, and the body shop expansion of the dealership during the early- to mid-1980s.
“It was basically a small, wooden building with sliding doors,” Dave Foster said of the early years. “There were gas pumps out in front. My grandfather used to go out and pump gas for everybody.”
Foster remembered his dad bringing him along on wrecker calls. And he playfully recalled the day around 35 years ago when his dad did some wrecking of his own.
“I was around 23 years old and my father was getting frustrated with people from a local company who were knocking down a barrier between our old showroom and new showroom,” Dave Foster said. “The guy was picking at it like he was using a carpenter’s hammer. And he was on it for hours. Dad finally got (mad), walked into the shop, got a sledgehammer and knocked the wall down himself to try and get the process going.”
Ed Foster “retired,” but never got the business out of his blood.
“My dad has always been the pioneer, always the go-to for suggestions,” Dave Foster said. “He started to relinquish power during the early 1990s and he didn’t really like relinquishing power as much as he thought he did. So he went and bought a Chevrolet store in Waterbury with some of his friends.”
The elder Foster decided after six months that the new gig wasn’t for him.
“He went up there for six months and decided the trip (from Middlebury to Waterbury) was too far.”
So he asked Scott and Dave to help shepherd that business, which they did for 8 years. Like their dad, the boys weren’t enamored of the commute; Dave had two young children at the time.
“He wanted his old (Foster Brothers) office back,” Dave joked of his dad’s ultimate strategy.
The Fosters sold the Waterbury dealership during the late 1990s, once again making Foster Motors their primary focus.
Dave Foster didn’t start out with the family business. After high school, he attended college in North Carolina to become a body shop technician. He landed a job in that field at South Burlington Chrysler-Plymouth.
While he had (and still has) an independent streak, the family business — aka his grandmother — beckoned.
“My grandmother was the one who basically coerced me into coming back, because I was going to run my own used-car business,” Dave Foster smiled. “It’s very hard to say ‘no’ to your grandmother.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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