CATO | Doug Taber said customers continue to call and stop into his office, even though the 94-year-old, family-owned business is closed.
"It's like a wake," he joked, somewhat wistfully, on Tuesday, Feb. 19.
The spacious showroom at Taber Motors was empty, but clean. The auto mechanic/dealership's sales and service awards still hung on the wall. But the parking lot outside was covered in only snow, not used cars for sale.
"We had (new) Oldsmobiles for 43 years before they decided to quit building Oldsmobiles," Taber said.
The business, located on Main Street in Cato, sold used cars after there were no more new Oldsmobiles, and also did repair and maintenance work.
Taber said there are several reasons why he considered closing for more than a year. He finally made his decision on Jan. 24.
"One of the reasons is I have nobody to take over the business," he said. "I have a son, but he's a chiropractor."
Taber said another factor in the closing is the location.
"The business climate is very difficult," he said. "New York state is difficult to do business in."
General Motors' recent fiscal woes also had an impact on Taber Motors.
"I specialize in GM cars," he said. "That's what I sold for years."
In 2009, during bankruptcy, General Motors stopped leasing cars and that reduced the number of used GM cars on the market, Taber explained.
"Their production is way down from what it used to be," he said.
The last decade was also hard on Taber Motors. Construction on nearby roads caused customers to bypass the business for two years.
"People were just bypassing the area to avoid the aggravation," he said. "That didn't help any."
And then there was the famous recession.
"Nothing's forever," Taber said. "That's what I tell everybody."
The building that contained the offices and showroom was built as a schoolhouse in 1876, Taber said. His great-uncle Ernest Taber started the auto business in 1919 and eventually handed it over to Taber's father, Glenn Taber. Doug Taber started working full-time at the family business in 1971.
Taber recalled a laid-back atmosphere over the years and many rewards from Oldsmobile for hard work by Taber Motors staff.
The business won Oldsmobile Elite Dealer awards and employees were sent on vacations. Taber said they saw Jay Leno perform a special show for award-winning dealers. Taber himself met Leno backstage. They also met Ronald Reagan and saw Kool and the Gang perform.
Taber said the business always tried to be community-oriented, providing the driver's education car for the local school and sponsoring local sports teams and school field trips. Cards and calls are flooding in from long-time customers.
One of these customers, Jean Prudom, a retired nurse who lives in Auburn, said she's been taking her cars to Taber Motors since 1982.
"My heart's broken now that they've closed," she said. "I talked to Doug the other day and said, now where am I going to go? You can't trust anybody these days."
Prudom said her brother Donald bought three Oldsmobiles from Taber Motors.
"They were wonderful, no matter what you needed on your car," she said.
Fred Rickard, of Cato, was a salesman with Taber Motor for 32 years and now has a car sales job with Cavallaro Neubauer in Wolcott.
"That's where I spent my whole working career — right out of high school," Rickard said. "It was always pleasurable. It was a nice family atmosphere."
Rickard said the auto industry has changed. He believes a scarcity of used cars has driven up the prices so that for just a few thousand dollars more, people can buy brand new cars, which tend to need less maintenance than the older ones.
But the friendly, down-to-earth service is what Rickard believes former customers will miss the most.
"You could walk in here and talk to us," he said. "We knew them, they knew us. Just like a big family."
Taber has already sold the two-building compound, and wouldn't reveal who the next owner will be, but believes it would be good for Cato. He thanked all of his customers over the years, saying their business meant a lot to his family.
"We're awful sorry it has to end this way," he said.