Closing of Grandin Automotive Tells Bigger Story

This is the story of American expectations that ended badly. It’s about Bill Millner, an automotive genius, a successful businessman with decades of experience, and the desire to keep his business going. One day last week I overheard a conversation that sounded ominously like Bill’s “retirement.” I hesitated to congratulate him, because I was thinking of myself. Where would I go, very soon, for car repairs, full service gas pumps and advice I trusted?

I thought about the time I left the car with him to fix a knocking sound. He checked under the hood, took the car for a spin, but could not solve the mystery. After another spin and more investigation he found a loose antenna. End of problem. The charge? Nothing.

Another time a dear friend was traveling alone from Atlanta to New Jersey with a stop in Roanoke to visit me. Before leaving, she wanted a full-service fill up, and I led her to Bill’s Grandin Automotive. After filling her tank, Bill told her that his wife had the exact same make of car and she was getting better mileage and having fewer engine problems with a different blend of fuel. My friend snarkily asked him why he hadn’t told her that before he filled the tank. He didn’t use the word “ethical,” but she got his drift. The big-city girl, taken aback, thanked him graciously for his service and advice. Was I ever proud of Roanoke!

Back to the retirement conversation, Bill said he “never thought it would end this way,” and that his retirement was “not voluntary.” It turned out he had hoped for a better economic climate, but such was not the case. He could see excessive regulations and increasing taxes in the foreseeable future and he was not at all confident that the loan he needed could be repaid.  He had hit a wall, finally, that he did not believe he could overcome. The man who loved his work was finished.

At the end of December, Bill will not be at his shop, more good mechanics will be out of work, and loyal customers will be in mourning. What happened here?

Gail T. Lambert


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