By Nick Diamantides
Before there was ever an oil boom on Signal Hill, and when most of what is now Long Beach consisted of small farms, oat fields and cow pastures, a man named Samuel Thomas moved here from Nebraska with his family. Soon afterwards, in 1909, he purchased a small automobile dealership on Pacific Avenue close to what is now downtown Long Beach. Thomas named the dealership the Long Beach Auto Company and signed on with the E-M-F Company to sell their automobiles.
Also in 1909, at the age of 15, Glenn, who was one of Thomas’s sons, started working at the dealership. Four years later, the Studebaker Corporation took over E-M-F, and a short time later the dealership began selling Studebaker autos.
Samuel passed away in 1918, and, because Glenn was a major stockholder in the dealership, he took over its operations. Two years later, he changed the dealership’s name to Glenn E. Thomas Company. By1926, the business had outgrown its facilities and Glenn moved it to three corners of Elm Avenue and Anaheim Street that encompassed a combined total of about three acres.
In 1934, the United States was deep into the Great Depression, and the Studebaker Corporation was experiencing great financial difficulties. That year, not willing to risk staying with a company that looked as if it could go belly-up any day, Glenn Thomas decided to drop the Studebaker product. Then he signed a franchise agreement with the Chrysler Corporation, and his company became a Dodge dealership.
Monte started working in the dealership’s parts department, but advanced in responsibilities and Thomas’s esteem as the years progressed. “He became a co-owner of the dealership in the 1960s,” Davis said. “By the end of the ‘60s he had bought Mr. Thomas out.”
Davis said that his father and Glenn Thomas remained very close friends until Thomas passed away about 20 years ago. “We decided to keep the name, and Mr. Thomas allowed us to do so,” he said. “He told us, ‘Your family is the only one I would allow to keep my name on the building’.”
After Thomas retired, Monte Davis allowed him to keep an office in the building on Anaheim Street. “He came in regularly. He still had the car business in his blood,” Davis said. “He was a great gentleman.”
In 1992, the Glenn E. Thomas Dodge dealership moved to its present location, 2100 East Spring St., in Signal Hill. The site is slightly larger than five acres.
Monte Davis died about two years ago, but, in keeping with the dealership’s tradition, his son Bob and Bob’s two sons also work there.
“My dad taught us well, and we are continuing in his legacy,” Davis said.
The Glenn E. Thomas dealership has been selling the Dodge product for a little more than 75 years now. “We had Plymouth for a short period of time back in the ‘60s and we’ve had Suzuki, but primarily we have been a Dodge dealership,” Davis said.
He noted, however, that after the recent (June 16) closure of the nearby Long Beach Chrysler Jeep Dealership, the Glenn E. Thomas dealership began selling those brand names as well.
“The main focus for my dad and Mr. Thomas was always, ‘Treat people like you want to be treated’,” Davis said. “That remains our primary focus as well, and it applies to our customers and our employees.”
Davis added that Thomas and his father also believed that customers should be treated like special guests from the moment they walk onto the lot. “My dad always said, ‘You never get a second chance to make a good first impression’,” he explained. “When a customer is in front of us, we want to make sure they feel welcome, that they will come back, and that they will recommend us to their family and friends.”
Glenn E. Thomas currently has about 85 employees, 11 of which had worked at the Chrysler Jeep dealership.
“We feel very fortunate that during this economic downturn, we didn’t have to lay anybody off,” Davis said. “We feel that the economy is going to come back, so we decided to bite the bullet for a while and keep our people so when it does come back, we will be ready for it.” He noted that although sales have declined by 30 percent in the past two years or so, the parts-and-service business has been good. “The Cash for Clunkers was good for us, and we are hoping we can build on that,” he said.
At last week’s Signal Hill City Council meeting, the dealership received a proclamation honoring it for 100 years of service to the people of the Long Beach-Signal Hill area.