David Griffith still has plenty on his plate, with posts on several community boards and a sideline in auctioneering, but he has retired from the auto dealership business.
The papers to sell his Griffith Motors dealership were signed March 25, and the new owner is Mario Hernandez, who has three dealerships in Idaho and Nevada.
The new entity is split into two dealerships, Columbia Gorge Toyota and Columbia Gorge Honda.
Griffith said, “Even today I don’t want to be out of the car business, I love it, but at age 78 I want to get out of it while I’m still walking.”
Griffith met Hernandez a few years ago at an awards program for a small group of Toyota dealers recognized for above-average performance. “He sort of targeted me as a store he was interested in because it had two franchises he already had,” Griffith said.
Hernandez has a Toyota dealership in Idaho Falls, a Honda dealership in Pocatello, Idaho and a Ford dealership in Winnemucca, Nev.
Griffith said of Hernandez, “He’s a very talented operator and he’ll kick this dealership up to another level.”
He said Hernandez had an advantage in pursuing the acquisition of the dealership because “he was a successful Toyota and a successful Honda dealer.”
When Griffith Motors moved from downtown to its current location at 1900 W. Sixth St., he wanted to put both franchises under one roof, but it didn’t fly with either company. He ended up “with a much bigger investment than is needed for a market this size.”
It opened for business at its new location in January 2012.
Griffith said his “real wish in life was to have a junkyard, but it’s too physical.” He said most of his early cars were made from pieces he salvaged from junkyards. He didn’t do the mechanics work himself, however. “I’m the kid who took the clock apart but couldn’t put it back together.”
He scrimped to buy a dealership, and then went on to own or be a partner in at least six dealerships.
The secret to being a good salesman, he said, was “you have to like people and communicate well and be respectful of people. And listen to what they want.” He added, “to be successful you’ve really got to figure out what they want, find it, and help them through the process.”
He came up from Central California to purchase Thomas Motors in 2001 and had been in town a few months getting settled in. “But the actual purchase came the same week as 9/11,” he said. “And watching all my employees and us watch that horrific event in our cute little waiting room was something I’ll never forget. The world just came to a stop, in every way that you can imagine.”
As for his decision to sell the dealership, Griffith said, “It’s a whole basket of reasons why you do something. I’d much rather be selling cars than sitting in my cute little office, but that’s just not something I’m gonna do. If I were younger, I’d buy another dealership.”
He had heart surgery recently, which he recovered from. He had heart surgery 10 years before that too. “At 60 you bounce back more than 70. I just felt the time had come when it was time to make a change.”
The dealership has 50 employees, “and that was one of the reasons for making my change. I felt responsible for 50 families and if something happened to me, it could’ve been a problem, so to speak.”
Griffith has always been intrigued with cars, and has owned plenty, but he actually hasn’t owned one for the last 20 years. “I actually had to buy one when I sold the dealership,” he said.
People always thought he was lucky that he could choose any car he wanted to drive from his dealership, “but you drive in something that’s not particularly your choice. And for what I paid for the dealership, it certainly wasn’t a free car.”
His first job was at a Marv Tonkin Mercury in Portland, “and the best part of that job was I wrecked a car and they didn’t fire me.”
He’d been told to drive a Mercury Colony Park station wagon—“a big school bus”—down a ramp, and “I creamed the side of it in this narrow driveway.”
As for naming his dealership in The Dalles, he originally thought of using “Highway 84” as a way to put a regional stamp on the business, but “I just didn’t think it was the right name at the time.” “I never wanted to put my name on the side of the building, I’m not on an ego trip like that, but I needed to localize it, so that’s what I did.”
As for how he’s keeping busy these days, he’s working to build a website now that he’s purchased the domain name solditsolditauctions.com.
“I went to too many car auctions in my early stages in the car business and the auctioneers always intrigued me. I went to auction school quite a few years ago.”
Currently he’s helping Mosier Community School with their annual fundraising auction.
He’s also running unopposed for his third four-year term on the Port of The Dalles board, he sits on the Columbia Gorge Regional Airport board and is a member of the Columbia Gorge Community College Foundation board.
He will stay in The Dalles in retirement. “I’ve got a home that I’ve had for a number of years. I feel very blessed to have found The Dalles and I enjoy the activities I have had and the people I’ve worked with.”