Tiffany Motor Company, the oldest Ford dealership in California and one of the most entrenched business institutions in Hollister, is changing hands after 109 years and four generations of family ownership.
The dealership is not only being passed to another family, but its new owners are not far away. Greenwood Chevrolet, located across the street from Tiffany along San Felipe Road, finalized paperwork to purchase the historic dealership on Aug. 30, renaming it Greenwood Ford, according to both parties in the transaction.
“It’s been a hell of a run,” said Bob Tiffany in a weekend interview.
Tiffany, the fourth generation to run the business, said, “It’s bittersweet for us, but all good things come to an end at some point. I want to thank the community for being so supportive of myself, the whole Tiffany family, and all the generations before me.”
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The dealership was founded by E.W. Tiffany in 1910. He had come to Hollister several years earlier, and after purchasing a Model T from the Hughson Ford dealership in San Francisco, Tiffany made a deal to sell cars in Hollister.
It was initially just a side project to complement his full time job in the real estate business, but soon the dealership was the main source of E.W.’s income, and he started to focus on automobiles exclusively.
During the first year of the dealership’s existence, E.W. Tiffany sold three Model T’s. This year, the dealership averaged about 30 to 50 sales a month of both new and used vehicles.
E.W.’s sons, F. Gile and Preston, joined the dealership in the 1920s. Gile’s son Charles followed suit in 1956.
Bob, the fourth generation, joined the dealership in 1987, and worked with his father Charles for more than 10 years.
But the fifth generation of family ownership was never meant to be.
Bob Tiffany’s two sons, both in their 20s, have recently graduated from college. The oldest son earned a chemistry degree from UC Berkeley, while the youngest is a Northwestern University graduate pursuing a dream of being a film writer in Los Angeles.
“Neither of them has an interest in the car business,” Tiffany said. “I’ve known for quite a long time. It wasn’t a matter of if, but when. It fell on my generation to find a buyer and sell the business. It hasn’t been an easy process, but it was the right decision.”
He applauded his sons’ decision to pursue their own career path, adding that there was never any pressure throughout generations of the Tiffany family to take over the business.
Tiffany himself didn’t jump into the dealership right away. After going to college, he spent 15 years working in business administration on the East Coast.
Tiffany’s father Charles, while approaching retirement age, asked Bob if he would be interested in returning to Hollister to take over the business in the mid-1980s.
“My wife (Kathy) and I kicked it around for several years,” Bob Tiffany said. “It was not an easy decision.”
Bob and Kathy moved to Hollister in 1987, where Bob quickly began taking over the day-to-day operations of the dealership.
“Initially, I naively thought I’ll give it a go and see what happens,” he recalled. “Once I was involved with the family business, I pretty quickly realized, ‘Well, this is what you’re doing.’
“It’s been a great business. I don’t have any regrets. Hollister has been great to my family.”
Tiffany, 65, said the decision to sell the business, the fifth oldest Ford dealership in the country, came across his mind several years ago, but he didn’t seriously begin pursuing it until early 2018 when he began searching for a buyer.
“I always thought of the Greenwoods as a strong possibility,” he said. “I’ve known Marty for a long time, and we’ve been friendly competitors. Marty would sometimes say, ‘If you are ever thinking about selling the dealership, let me know.’ He was one of the first people I’ve contacted.”
Marty and Michael Greenwood opened Greenwood Chevrolet in January 2001. The brothers then acquired the local Buick and GMC franchise in 2005, and combined all three lines at one location.
The Ford dealership currently employs about 30 people, many of which have been there for decades, and TIffany said he expects all of them will continue working for the Greenwoods.
“They’re like an extended family,” he said. “They’ve been very instrumental in getting us to where we are now. I’m going to miss that connection.”
Like anything that has survived for 109 years, Tiffany Ford has seen its share of ups and downs. The dealership survived two world wars and the Great Depression, and most recently scraped through the Great Recession.
“It really hit home for me how difficult it is to get through 109 years,” Tiffany said.
The auto industry in particular, Tiffany noted, is always evolving, and a good indicator of the state of the economy.
The advent of the internet has also “dramatically” changed how people shop for vehicles, but not necessarily how they purchase them, he said. Consumers will always want to visit a dealership to see and test drive vehicles, but they will hunt for the best deals by looking online first, according to Tiffany.
Prospective car buyers used to visit on average of four to five dealerships before making a purchase. Now, that number has dropped to one or two.
The future of car buying has many question marks, Tiffany said, with electric vehicles, self-driving automobiles and ride sharing services on the rise.
“Dealerships are very resilient and have adjusted to the times,” he said. “People are always going to need cars. I suspect there will still be car dealerships, but how they sell may change. I think they will be around for the long haul.”
Tiffany said he hasn’t given much thought as to what his future holds now that he is “retired.” He plans on traveling with his wife, and remaining involved with a number of community organizations, such as the Community Foundation for San Benito County and San Benito County Business Council.
“I haven’t had a whole lot of time to think, ‘Now what?’” Tiffany said. “I’m not the type to sit at home and be fully retired. I feel pretty young still.”