Bob Hembree Jr.

He's driven a lot of brand new Chevrolet trucks over the years, but never personally owned one in his name. One of the last things Bob Hembree Jr. did before selling the dealership was buy this new Chevy pickup. 

It's the end of one era and the beginning of a new one. 

The Bob Hembree Chevrolet dealership - which has been in the Hembree family 62 years - sold this week to the Benton Automotive Group.

Dale Benton and his wife Victoria have Nissan dealerships in Bessemer, Hoover, Oxford and Columbia, Tennessee. This will be the 5th store in their group and their first foray outside the Nissan line (see other story).

"I had been considering an exit strategy from the new car business for myself," Hembree Chevrolet owner Bob Hembree Jr. said. "I was approached by them. In getting to know them through this process, Dale Benton and his representatives have been first class."

The Hembree dealership has a long history in Guntersville. And its beginnings were colorful. 

When he was just out of college, Bob Hembree Sr. was a salesman for Joe Money Machinery. He came to Guntersville to try to sell the city a bulldozer. 

The late T.C. Crain was the mayor at the time and had the Buick dealership in town. 

"My father had a hard time getting up with Mr. Crain," Bob Jr. said. 

Hembree Sr. had been to city hall and not found him. But he learned Crain had the Buick dealership. 

"He came up early one morning and went to the dealership and Mr. Crain wasn't there," Bob Jr. said. "But the people at the dealership knew where he was. They said he was at Cornelius Meat Market. So my father went down there."

When he entered the meat market, Hembree Sr. found Mr. Crain and Dr. Martin "sword fighting" with the butcher knives at the meat shop.

"They stopped in midswing and it looked like a military salute, my father said," Bob Jr. said. 

Hembree Sr. got designated their driver for the day. By the end of the day, Hembree had sold the city a dozer and Crain had talked him into coming to work for him at the Buick dealership.

After Crain's passing, the Hembrees bought the dealership from the estate on Nov. 1, 1956. Bob Sr. ran it until he was elected mayor in 1976 and soon decided he wanted to devote himself full-time to that. 

Bob Sr. called his son, who was a senior at the University of Alabama, to come home and run the dealership. 

"I started on Aug. 16, 1977, the day Elvis Presley died," Bob Jr. said. 

The 3 men - Crain, Hembree Sr. and Hembree Jr. - shared a distinction. All 3 were Guntersville Buick dealers and all 3 served as Guntersville mayor. 

The dealership was on about 4 different pieces of property with 5 buildings next door to the Marshall County Sheriff's Office for many years. Hembree Jr. moved it to its present location on Highway 431 on the mountain in 2002. 

"There was a GM strike in the late 1960s and we added American Motors to get through the strike," Hembree said. 

It was primarily a Buick dealership for the first half of its life. Hembree added the Chevrolet line of automobiles in 1985. 

It has been strictly a Chevrolet dealership for the last several years, as the Buick line was sold to the Bentleys in Albertville.

Hembree said he has enjoyed his friendships with his customers and employees for the last 42 years. 

"We have great relationships with people and that is definitely something I will always cherish," he said. 

The dealership currently has 40 employees and has had as many as 50.

"The car business has changed in my time," Hembree said. He once ordered inventory on paper forms, checking boxes for the models and features he wanted. Now, of course, all ordering is done over the Internet.

The Internet has also changed how they do business. The dealership has an Internet sales department. 

"We sell cars to people all over the country," he said. "We've had customers fly in, we pick them up at the airport and they drive their new car home. Some drive their trade to the dealership. We have delivered new cars to some."

Hembree, who will soon be 64, intends to stay active. 

"I call a recliner a decliner," he said. "I'm not going to go home to sit in the decliner."

He has been a silent partner for years in a used car dealership and plans to be more active with it. He also plans to travel with his wife Connie. 

"We've traveled, but it has usually revolved around a GM meeting somewhere," he said. "I look forward to traveling."

The Hembrees have 2 grown children, Sara and Tripp. 

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