Since selling Fitzpatricks Auto to Edwards Chevrolet, Tom Fitzpatrick has kept a low profile, seeing his grandkids and kids, being a happy ‘kept man’, in his words, while his wife Sue keeps her successful career going in the insurance business, and holing up, sometimes six to ten hours a day, trying to finish up the business of the Fitzpatrick Corporation, all 56 years of it. “A lot of people don’t realize we still need to take care of business, to finish up with Fitzpatricks,” says Tom, “It’s a process.” Not surprisingly, since the sale of Fitzpatrick’s last year, Tom says his doctor has given him a better bill of health. “Must have been stress related,” chuckles Tom. Tom also admits since selling the business, he has gotten into the habit of fishing (after all, he does have a lake in his backyard, so to speak — might as well use it). “It’s amazing to me, still, that at 3 o’ clock in the afternoon, I can be out on a boat, beer in one hand, and fishing pole in the other, trying to catch some walleye,” laughs Tom. And with that, life just keeps on unfolding in unexpected ways for Mr. Fitzpatrick.
“When I was in the auto business, no one needed to see me with long hair — you just can’t do that in our business, and our area. But now, it’s been fun to grow it out,” says Tom. The long hair, the beard, some gold chains — Tom looks more like a cool, hip-hop record label owner than the guy, who along with his brother Bill, used to run a multi – million dollar auto sales/ service business that was a landmark Storm Lake institution for years. ” Yeah, but I don’t want to go all David Letterman, you know,” laughs Tom, referring to the now notoriously reclusive king of late night television who has also grown a beard, much, much longer than Tom’s.
But the main focus of Tom’s time has been, in his words, ‘dissolving the Fitzpatrick Corporation. ” What people don’t realize is that Bill and I sold the business — the dealership — but we still have the corporation, so we need to sell off the assets that weren’t part of the deal, then wrap up the corporation,” says Tom. Thus, the learning curve becomes a bit more challenging for Tom since he is doing this on his own. ” We have an over aged parts inventory that didn’t get into the deal with Edwards, and that General Motors didn’t buy back. But we did find a buyer in Phoenix, who deals in selling parts for auto restoration,” says Tom. The inventory consisted of parts that weren’t 15 months or newer, again as per the deal with Edwards, and GM policy on parts buy back. The old truck center near Walmart wasn’t part of the contract agreement with Edwards either, but Tom said by September 1st of this year.
A little history is in order to see the long journey Tom took to get to this point in his life. In 1959, T.H. Fitzpatrick, Tom’s dad, started the dealership, and from 1959 to 1969, there were partners involved in ownership, whom Tom’s dad bought out. 1972 brought Tom back from college, and from 1972 through 1974, Tom worked at Fitz’s to start learning the auto business. In January of 1975, Tom went to Detroit to take a six week training course on how to run a Chevrolet dealership. In 1976, he married his lovely bride Sue, and started their family (and let it be said that all through the years, even after marriage, kids, and grandkids, Sue kept her career going in the insurance business). In 1975, Tom started the process of buying his dad out of the dealership, to get us to 1993, when brother Bill got on board as a co-owner in the corporation.
When did he know it was time to get out of the business? “I knew it was probably time for me, prior to remodeling the dealership, around 2012,2013. The remodeling had to meet GM standards and requirements,” says Tom. Which brings in another interesting scenario: technically, someone could have made an offer to buy the dealership from Bill and Tom, prior to remodeling. Tom explains he could have made the sale, then the following would have happened — GM would have offered the new owner a one year contract to continue to sell GM products, but at the end of the contract, if the new ownership didn’t follow through on remodeling through the GM plan, the contract to continue to sell GM products would have been void.
Tom is also proud of Fitzpatrick’s work in serving the community, and giving back to the community. ” I hope people think that Fitzpatrick’s gave back all these years. I know Sue and I have supported causes around the community for some time now,” says Tom. Good relationships have been imperative for Tom, and Fitzpatrick’s all these years — it has been a vital part of their existence.
Next time you see Tom, Bill, or any Fitzpatrick family member, thank them for their contribution to Storm Lake all these years. And now, for Tom, back to that beer, and fishing for walleye, in between rounds of golf.