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Sales total more than $165 million in 1999

Blackwell grows with help from friends, family

JACKSON – From their humble beginnings with Fagan Chevrolet in Magee during the mid-1950s, the Blackwells have beautifully weathered the many bumps on

the road to success.

Last year, more than 7,500 new and used cars were sold at Blackwell Autoplex on Interstate 55 in Jackson, accounting for more than $165 million in sales and

employment for nearly 250 people.

“Black was one of the fortunate ones in life because he loved what he did and he had a knack for getting the right people for the right job,” said Frances Blackwell,

referring to her husband, T. G. Blackwell, who died in 1988. “Black wanted to build a family with the employees – and he did.”

The saga began in 1954, when T.G. Blackwell returned to Simpson County. Initially, the couple was involved with Fagan Chevrolet in his hometown of Magee. In

1959, the Blackwells moved from Magee to Mendenhall when they bought a local dealership in the county seat about the same time they acquired Fagan Chevrolet. In

1965, they purchased Ratliff Motors in Clinton and immediately began looking for property in Jackson to build a dealership and consolidate operations.

“In the beginning, Mr. Blackwell sold the cars and Mrs. Blackwell wrote them up and did the paper work,” said Thomas Townsend, husband of the Blackwells’ only

daughter, Beth Blackwell Townsend. “They had one other man to do the service work and another to do the rest. It was a real small operation and they were there for

each other during the good times and rough times.”

In May 1967, the couple opened T.G. Blackwell Chevrolet at its present location on I-55 North, now called Blackwell Autoplex, under which Blackwell Motors and

Blackwell Chevrolet are housed. The import business, which sells Mercedes and Porsches, was established in 1976.

“When we first built the place on I-55, we were the new guy in the city, and Dumas Milner (Chevrolet) had such a great business going,” said Frances Blackwell.

“We had to do something to let people know we were there so I asked Black to do the inside of the building blue and green and then paint the trucks for the parts

blue and green. He agreed. Well, Mr. Ken Harbour, who came over here with us to build up the parts department, said he couldn’t imagine painting all those beautiful

Chevy trucks like that. He said I was breaking his heart. People weren’t using blue and green together then but we laughed after a few years and said ‘well, it

worked,’ and we made a splash. It was fun, but it was a lot of hard work. One thing I can say is, we have had some of the best employees, from the wash crew to the

top.”

Townsend, a 20-year veteran, said the family-style environment has allowed him to build a repeat customer base and cultivate new customers.

“I’ve been fortunate to make a lot of good friends with the customers and feel very rewarded by that,” he said. “It’s been a great place to work.”

The Bikes for Children program, in which bicycles are given to outstanding students in elementary schools, is a continuing program at Blackwell Autoplex.

“At Christmas we would put a check in the employees pay envelope for their kids to buy what they wanted. I always loved seeing families together when we had our

big Christmas dinners,” said Frances Blackwell.

One of the largest parts wholesalers in the U.S., Blackwell’s service department includes 24 bays for imports, 12 for Dodge and more than 30 for Chevrolet.

“The Internet accounts for a small percentage of sales, but it hasn’t really developed into anything big quite yet like everybody thinks it will,” said Dick Ainsworth,

general manager, and lifelong family friend. “It may take some time. Leasing took about 10 years to catch on.”

Now equally owned by Bruce Blackwell, Dean Blackwell and Beth Blackwell Townsend, Blackwell Autoplex has expanded over the years, from a seven-acre site to

25 acres facing the frontage road on I-55 South near the Briarwood exit, and includes a new showroom in the Chevrolet building.

“In the future, we hope to build an all new Dodge building as we continue to grow,” he said. “Mr. Blackwell used to say we bend over backwards to please, and we

still do.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lynne@thewritingdesk.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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