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Sanborn Chevrolet celebrates 40 years in Lodi, despite GM’s financial hardships

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Posted: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 7:08 am, Wed Jul 13, 2011.

Richard Sanborn jokes that he needs only two things to fuel his body day in and day out — Lodi’s wine and gasoline.

Sanborn, owner and head of Lodi’s Sanborn Chevrolet since 1971, has reason to smile. He celebrated his 40th year in business Tuesday amongst friends and community members who reminisced about buying their first car at Sanborn’s dealership just off of Cherokee and Kettleman lanes.

People also chatted about how Sanborn did what was thought to be the impossible — convince a cash-strapped General Motors that the Lodi dealership needed to stay in business.

“It wasn’t too long ago we thought we were going to lose the store, and they told us we had to close up shop,” he said. “Well, we told them they could go to hell because we’re going to stay right here.”

Nearly two years ago, Sanborn Chevrolet was facing the chopping block after General Motors announced the Lodi dealership was one of 2,000 locations selected to be shut down after the company filed for bankruptcy.

Many dealership owners appealed, including Sanborn, who through a massive letter-writing campaign that included not only friends but state legislators as well, finally convinced the Detroit company to let his dealership stay afloat.

In November 2010, the dealership signed a five-year deal with GM.

And while business can still be tough in Northern California, Sanborn Chevrolet will remain in Lodi to sell cars to the community for as long as possible, said Dennis Calton, vice president and general manager of the dealership.

“We aren’t exactly where we wanted to be right now, but we’re getting there,” he said. “If we had gone under, this would have been a huge hit for Lodi. Not just for us, but for other companies in the auto industry here.”

Currently, Sanborn’s dealership has 68 new cars on the lot, with an additional 60 used vehicles also up for sale. The dealership also employs roughly 45 people, though that number has been trimmed down from 65 when the economy was still good, Calton said.

Sanborn, who grew up in the automobile industry and has worked with cars since 1955, said he plans to keep the dealership open not because it is his job, but because it is a part of his life.

Sanborn, nursing a small glass of wine on Tuesday evening in the showroom of his dealership, also proudly declared that not only has he driven a Chevrolet automobile his whole life, but his wife, daughter, son-in-law and friends — he pointed to in the crowd — all drove Chevy cars as well.

“Chevrolet is part of who I am, and what can I say, I love the dealership,” he said. “We proved to General Motors that the store was viable, and out of sheer determination we were able to stay open. This is our home.”

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