By Vanesa Brashier, firstname.lastname@example.org
After 34 years in business, BJ Ford in Liberty is closing, and its headquarters at 3560 US 90 in Liberty will transition to a used car lot and service center under new owners on Nov. 1.
“Effective Sept. 21, we will no longer be a Ford dealer,” said BJ Ford owner Bruce Burnham. “I had the dealership sold to another Ford dealership – Friendly Ford in Crosby – but Ford called me to say they are going to exercise their right to refuse the sale and instead will purchase my franchise.”
According to Burnham, Ford is reducing the number of dealerships it has in the United States by buying out dealerships as they come up for sale.
“You will start to see this as being fairly commonplace. I know there are two Ford dealerships, including us, who are going through this transition right now,” he said.
The deal allows Burnham to keep the building, land, furniture and equipment, which will be leased to Friendly Ford’s owners – the Salinas brothers – Austin and Blake – for a used vehicle lot under the name Friendly Auto Mall.
“It will be a business with used car sales and a service department. They are planning to keep the vast majority of my employees, which was important to me. Under Ford’s buyout program, I was just going to shut down and those jobs would have gone away. The Salinas are keeping most of the service writers and technicians and are bringing just two people with them,” said Burnham, who believes the arrangement is a “best case scenario.”
As the Ford signs and trademarks will be removed by Sept. 21 and the new business owners will not open until Nov. 1, Burnham said he and his business partner, Robert Dunn, will remain open through the end of October to sell used cars and operate the service department.
“We won’t be able to do any warranty work other than extended warranties during the month of October. All warranty work will have to be done at another dealership,” Burnham said. “I know a lot of people bought vehicles from us because they knew we would be here to service their vehicles. Now they will have to take their warranty work to another dealer, and I am sorry for that. It’s not what I wanted to see happen. I wanted to see another Ford dealer come in, keep all my employees and keep selling and serving Ford vehicles.”
With BJ Ford’s closure, this leaves just one new vehicle dealership remaining in Liberty – Crossroads Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram. Dayton has no new vehicle dealerships while Cleveland has three – Demontrond Ford, Martin Chevrolet and Martin Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram.
When asked if the lack of inventory since the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge, Burnham said, “Well, it hasn’t been fun. We normally stock 120 new vehicles and we have about 10 on the lot right now. It makes it difficult for people buying a new vehicle who are now paying over sticker price.”
Computer chip shortages are to blame for the shortages of available vehicles, he added.
“They are building plants in the United States right now to make computer chips but it will be a year or two before they get caught up with demand,” Burnham said.
Long history in Liberty
The Burnham family has been involved in the car business in Liberty, Texas, since 1973, when Bruce’s late father, J.C. Burnham, purchased a Chevrolet dealership, which he operated for 27 years. It was located in downtown Liberty on the 1100 block of Main Street, a property now owned by the City of Liberty and used for public works.
In 1987, Bruce Burnham purchased a Ford dealership in Liberty that was previously operated by Nelson Waldrop for 25 years and Pat Green for two years.
“When I bought it, I was 29 years old and was the youngest Ford dealer in the United States at the time. It was located next to the Chevrolet dealership where Robinson’s Body Shop is now. In 1994, we had a bad flood in Liberty (caused by a break in the levy that protects the city from the Trinity River during floods). Ford wanted me to move the dealership, so I came out here to US 90 and built this,” Burnham said. “We moved into the new building in 1996.”
Selling the dealership is bittersweet for Burnham, who says that June 2023 would have marked 50 years for the Burnham family to be in the car business in Liberty.
Burnham says he and Dunn plan to continue overseeing other business ventures from an office in the old Enterprise car rental business next to BJ Ford.
“I have a lot of other properties that I deal with. Plus I have a lot of vices. I like to play golf. I like to hunt. I like to fish,” he said with a chuckle. “Robert and I may get into something else somewhere down the line but for now we are looking forward to taking some time off.”
Burnham is grateful for the loyal customers who have kept BJ Ford in business for all these years.
“Thank you, all, for what you have done. My dad always instilled in me that you have to give back to your community, and that’s what we have done for years with the Burnham Class Golf Tournament and others. There weren’t many fundraisers in this community that we weren’t involved in. The only way we could do that was through the support of our customers,” he said.