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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Hopkins Celebrates 40 Years in Marianna: Automobile dealership started on West end of Lafayette in 1970

By Sid Riley

On Saturday, May 1, Hopkins GMC reached a milestone. The familiar locally owned dealership celebrated 40 years of serving the citizens of Jackson County and the Florida panhandle. The founder and owner, Bill Hopkins, was sentimental as he remembered those early days as he struggled to get the new business operational.
“I had left a job with GMC, and was living temporarily in Chipley. I managed to negotiate a purchase of the dealership rights from Jim Roberts, who was in control of the GMC dealership at that time. Then I came to Marianna and leased what is now the Aaron’s Furniture Building at 4230 Lafayette Street, on the West end of Marianna. We opened on the morning of May 1, 1970…and I sold my first car by 9:00 AM. Later some other folks came in and bought an ugly, green Pontiac from me, and made our first day a success. I reminisced about this car with the owner a few weeks ago, and he agreed that it was ugly….but he said it was one of the best cars he ever owned,” Hopkins related.
“When I first became a GMC dealer and was preparing to open the business, we found out that it would be six weeks before we could take delivery on any shipments from GMC. I contacted Lloyd’s Pontiac in Panama City, and he graciously agreed to sell me six cars to get us started. Of course he unloaded the worse he had on us, so that was how I ended up with the ugly, green Pontiac in my first cars on the lot.
Along with Pontiac-GMC vehicles, we also became a Subaru dealer. At that time no one had ever heard of the car, and foreign cars were not really selling much of the U.S. market. We sold “Subaru’s until the mid 1980’s, until they announced they were going to an “all wheel drive” vehicle, and we feared sales would be bad since folks would confuse the concept with “four wheel drive”, and would not buy the cars.
Hopkins told of how they decided they had to relocate from their initial building when one day a car entering the service department ran off the ramp. “We looked all over the area for some level land on which to build a new dealership. The only suitable site we could find was the site of the old Copeland Motel, at the junction of highway 71 and highway 90 on the East side of Marianna. We were able to negotiate a purchase, had most of the structures moved from the ten or eleven acres of property, and began construction.
We had our grand opening at our present location on October 30, 1973. Almost immediately the severe recession of 1973 started. Nixon was President, and it was the occasion when we first discovered we did not have enough gasoline for our needs and were under the thumb of OPEC.”
Hopkins stated that the business started with eleven employees in 1970, and reached a high of 52 when they had stores operating in Chattahoochee, Chipley, Blountstown, and Marianna. “Our best years were from 1990 until 2005. This current economy and the problems GMC has experienced made it tough for our business in 2009, as it did for most dealerships. However, we made the necessary operational adjustments, and survived.”
The TIMES asked Hopkins if he had it all to do again, would he still come to Marianna and start his business. His response was, “ I certainly would. I am the son of a South Georgia sharecropper who had nothing. I feel the Lord has blessed me and my family. What other nation would have given someone with such humble beginnings the opportunities I have enjoyed. We have always enjoyed being part of the Jackson County and Marianna communities, and have always tried to do our part in support of life here.”
Bill Hopkins says that today he merely functions as the CEO of the company, and his son Eddie Hopkins actually fills the Dealer role.
So after forty years of successful operations, Hopkins GMC is the oldest operating dealership under continuous ownership in Jackson County. They have always been an important part of the local business community, have been good stewards and neighbors, and we say “CONGRATULATIONS” to this fine company.

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