By Stefan Yablonski
Since 1947, the Longley family has been in the automotive business — making it one of the longest family-owned businesses in the area.
Now, as Longley Bros Inc. marks its 75th anniversary, the fourth generation has joined the business. Emma, 17, who is still in high school, and her brother, Aiden, 19, are both working part-time at the dealership.
Doug Longley, third generation, is president. His father, Dennis Longley, is still listed as president.
“Two brothers, which would have been my father, Earl Longley, and his brother, Harold Longley, founded the business in 1947 as an auto body shop,” Dennis said. “The family dealership was established in 1955 and we added the Dodge dealership in 1964.”
A photo of the two founders hangs near the front of the dealership.
The fourth generation is Doug’s son and daughter; they currently work part-time.
It will be “a while” before there possibly is a fifth generation, according to Doug.
“They [Emma and Aiden] aren’t 100% sure they are interested in taking over,” he said. “It’s in the future for them if they want. They both work here; they’re just not sure about their future.”
“We started in 1947; started on Leitch Street as strictly a body shop,” Dennis said. “We moved here [county Route 57] in 1955.”
An aerial photo showing the Route 57 location in 1962 adorns the wall at the front of the shop.
“It was actually taken out of an airplane,” Dennis said. “We used to run a salvage yard,” he added, explaining the multitude of vehicles in the photo. “When we first moved here, this was a body shop all the way through. The salvage yard was out back.”
It was ‘56, might have been ‘55, they took on GMC trucks, Dennis recalled.
“Sold them not many years; might have had them until ’60 or ’61, somewhere in there. So, very few years with them,” he added.
“Started out with GMC, took on Studebaker in the fall of ’58 — the ’59 model year. We sold them until they went out of business in ’66. We took on Dodge in the fall of ’63, which would have been the ’64 model year and of course we are still with them.”
The secret to longevity
“It takes a lot of hard work,” Dennis replied. “Trying to take care of customers they way that we should.”
“Our reputation for customer care carried us through,” Doug agreed.
There have been a lot of changes over the decades.
“Changes were taking on new car dealerships. The cars have gotten bigger and faster,” Dennis said with a laugh. “We’ve expanded several times over the years — a lot. Most additions were service bays to take care of people. A few years ago, we put in a new paint booth in the body shop. We are full-service; sales and service body shop, the whole gamut.”
Car maintenance has also changed a great deal.
“It’s getting very close to being that you need to know computer science,” Dennis said of the technology degree needed to service today’s high-tech vehicles. “We send our techs to a lot of schooling. There’s a horrendous amount of computer monitors, sensors, everything else on today’s cars.”
More cars are being made with more plastic and aluminum parts, he pointed out.
There’s an old joke that you could fix cars in the ‘old days’ with a hammer and a screwdriver.
“Yup and a little baling wire; you can’t do that anymore. I don’t even look under the hood of a new car anymore,” Dennis quipped. “Things were a lot simpler back in those days.”
Annual car show
“We do a yearly car show here — highlight classic muscle cars,” Doug said. “We’d get 300, 400, 500 cars and about 1,500 to 2,000 people. The city did something similar down at the lake. We’ve done it, how many years now?”
“Coming up will be our 12th,’ Dennis replied.
Each Longley has their own favorite vehicle.
“It’s probably my ’67 Charger for me,” Doug said.
“Probably the favorite car I’d love to own but don’t would be a 1968 Dart — it has to have a hemi in it though,” Dennis said.
“Both of us did [race] for quite a few years,” Dennis added. “Drag racing, not that circle racing.”
“Used to drag race up there [Fulton Speedway] in the late ‘80s to mid ‘90s,” Doug said. “My father drag raced at Fulton Speedway in the ‘60s and stopped racing for a couple decades. He got back into racing at ESTA drag strip [in Cicero] in the late ‘80s until the mid ‘90s.”
“Won a track championship back in the day ,” Dennis added. “Then I sold my car and quit racing in 1996. It was taking up too much time. I still miss it.”
“Nowadays it’s getting more expensive,” he added with a smile.