A family-owned Meridian car dealership is making the final deals of its 40-year history.

Bill Ethridge Lincoln-Mercury, located at 200 North Frontage Road, is closing after serving the Meridian area for more than four decades.

"Ford, like every other manufacturer – Chrysler and GM – are downsizing," said Billy Jack Ethridge, who is co-owner of the local dealership with his sisters Tanya Tolbert and Gayla Carpenter.

"They have basically said they want 50 single-point dealers – where they only sell Ford vehicles – and we're the last single-point dealership for Lincoln Mercury in Mississippi."

Lincoln Mercury is a division of Ford Motor Company. In recent years, the company has closed its Lincoln Mercury dealerships throughout the state.

"We were hoping they would decide to leave us alone," Ethridge said. "Last September, they informed us that they wanted to talk. But the bottom fell out of the stock market, so they backed off."

Several weeks ago, the family received a call from the company. They were later informed of Ford's plans to close the local dealership.

"We wanted to continue to stay open maybe two or three years, we have a couple of employees nearing retirement," Ethridge said.

However, last week they were made an offer, with 48 hours to make a decision.

"It was a forced decision, but it's going to be okay," Ethridge said.

"I hate it for our customers, more so for our employees; we have good employees."

Ethridge said the dealership's 22 employees will be able to draw employment and vacation time.

The Service Department closed Friday. The Sales Department will remain open for up to 30 days.

"We will be liquidating our new and used cars inventory," Ethridge said.

The property will be put up for sale at a later date.

Bill Ethridge Lincoln Mercury evolved from Consolidated Motors, when, in 1967, brothers Bill and J.C. Ethridge purchased the company to sell used cars. The dealership was renamed Ethridge Brothers Used Cars and, 18 months later, it became Meridian's Lincoln Mercury dealership.

"My dad received a call from the manager of Lincoln Mercury who said if he wanted the dealership in Meridian, Mississippi, to be in Memphis, Tenn., the next day with 'x' amount of dollars in his hand," Ethridge said.

"Dad and J.C. got the money and went to Memphis."

And the rest, is history. Ethridge Brothers Lincoln Mercury was located at 4900 Eighth St.

In 1977, J.C.'s health began to fail and Bill purchased his portion of the dealership. The business' name was changed to Bill Ethridge Lincoln Mercury. Two years later, he purchased the Nelva Court property on Frontage Road and converted it into a new Lincoln Mercury dealership, which held its grand opening in November 1979.

In 1983, Billy Jack Ethridge joined his sisters, Tanya and Gayla, and became joint owners. Bill Ethridge is retired.

The Meridian dealership has enjoyed much success during its 40-year-history, amassing, at its height, $17 million in revenue, Ethridge said. Both father and son have served on the National Dealers Council.

"This is part of the economic times and we will have to roll with it," Ethridge said. "It's the Lord's will; I have a firm belief that everything happens for a reason. And I know that our employees will have better opportunities in the days to come."

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