Billings Sales & Service, located at the intersection of McPherson Highway and East Maple Street, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Fifth generation owners are brothers Tim, Tom and Mike Billings, sons of fourth generation owner James F. (Jim) Billings.
“It’s a partnership situation,” Mike Billings said. “We grew up together, came into business two years apart, and live next to each other.”
It’s been a continuing business since November 1922 when Freeman James Billings and his son, Freeman S., bought McPherson Garage from A.M. LeFever. It had been a full service garage that also sold Willy’s Overland and Federal Knights trucks until about 1927, after Billings took over. Attached to the front facing the highway was a sidewalk cafe and a 2-hour restaurant called “Welcome Inn.”
Car business changed with the times
Train tracks ran beside the buildings on the west and trolley tracks ran east and west on the highway on the front.
The frontage was removed when the highway was widened in 1952.
Billings' first newspaper notice to customers promised a guarantee of expert repair work on all makes of cars, storage space, a full line of accessories and the best oil and greases. “We kindly ask you to give us a trial and we will give you prompt service at all times,” the advertisement read.
That promise has been kept through the years. Jim Billings, fourth generation owner, repeated his great-grandfather’s motto: “If you service what you sell, service will keep you in business.”
“Our business has grown so much, you can stay in business if you take good care of the customer,” said Mike. It is now a NAPA and AC Delco repair facility.
The service business continued to grow when Freeman opened a coal yard on the east side of Maple Street in 1935, which continued to 1984. The third generation took over Jan. 1, 1939, under the direction of A. James Billings, who started selling used cars in 1946 and International Harvester trucks in 1952. Nash Rambler line was added in 1954, until 1976, when fourth generation owner James F. (Jim) Billings took over.
Gasoline was sold from two pumps until 1993 when Environmental Protection Agency rules changed. Selling gas attracted car shoppers.
Billings tried offering sodas as a promotion to keep people coming
Another way of attracting customers was from the sale of soft drinks after Jim’s dad donated the use of the facility for a weekend car wash to benefit his daughter, Virginia’s, high school class fundraiser. He sold 25 cases of Pepsi Cola at a special low price, which bought customers back for more, often asking about the price of cars in the sales lot. The drinks were bottled in glass, resulting in a second trip to return the bottles for the deposit, presenting another sales opportunity.
Jim continued the sale of 1- and 2-year old cars and filled requests from customers for GMC, Ford and Chrysler vehicles. The cars are purchased at factory auction in Columbus or Detroit. Clyde retirees attend auctions with the staff to drive the purchased vehicles back to Clyde.
It’s a long running joke still used today that retirees wives pay Billings to get their husbands out of the house and out town for the day, Mike said.
A new car lot and expanded service building was added across the street in June 2002, on the site of the former Mosier’s Hatchery. Jim recalled when Clarence Mosier walked in about 1958, said he had plucked his last chicken and wanted a new car. Negotiations were made with his dad and a deal was stuck. Mosier sold the building, got his car, enabling Billings service department to later expand.
Customer Appreciation Weekend being planned for fall
The observance of their 100th anniversary is planned for sometime this fall. In the planning stages are an informal Customer Appreciation Weekend to thank people for buying their cars. Present and past customers are invited to stop in, sit down, enjoy, snack and share stories.
A story heard many times by the present owners concerns the time their grandfather, A. James, age 19, was introduced to a sawed off shotgun by notorious criminal John Dillinger, who robbed him of his change belt containing $2.50.
This is a special year for Jim, who said he is observing his 60-, 80-, and 100-year anniversaries. He has been married to Carolyn for 60 years, observing his 80th birthday and celebrating 100 years of the family business.
The sixth Billings generation, consisting of Rob, Aric, Sam, Logan, Brooke, Stephanie, Lisa and Keyli, have no future plans at this time.
Jeanette Liebold Ricker writes about Clyde and Green Springs. Contact her at 419-547-8177 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Fremont News-Messenger: Talk About Clyde: Billings Sales and Service's 100th anniversary