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Tuesday, August 4 News

Family-owned dealership has roots in town

One car dealership has withstood the test of time in New Milford.

Wetmore’s has weathered the ever-changing landscape of the car industry.

It is the one remaining dealership in town, having survived the economic downfall of 2008 and subsequent years that led Chrysler, Ford, Dodge and Chevy to close its doors in town.

So says Scott Brittingham Jr., Wetmore’s president and general manager, and his wife, Katie Brittingham, comptroller. Brittingham is a member of the fourth generation of his family to operate the business.

“The level of attention to detail and the sincerity toward their patrons is a forgotten art,” said Jose Leston of New Milford, a customer of eight years. “It’s something that should be celebrated.”

“The level of sincerity (Wetmore’s has) of maintaining authenticity in dealerships is rare,” he said.

“What they do should be the standard in all service industries,” Leston added.

Throughout this year, the dealership conducted extensive renovations of its space at 333 Danbury Road (Route 7), just south of the traffic light at the intersection of Route 7 and Lanesville and Sullivan roads.

The showroom, the customer lounge, the office and the service areas have all been renovated. In addition, a customer coffee bar has been installed.

“I tried to keep it vintage — to pay respect to where we come from — and bring it into this day and age,” said Katie of the style of the renovations.

The dealership — which sells new Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Ram vehicles, as well as used cars, and offers a full-service shop and leasing — has a rich history in town (see sidebar, this page).

Wetmore’s Garage was founded by Scott Jr.’s great-grandfather, Frank Wetmore.

The Jeep brand was introduced in town in 1963, when Frank’s son, Donald Wetmore, owned the company, and has since been the dealership’s “bread and butter,” according to Scott Jr.

The company’s “roots are in Jeep” according to Scott Jr., who said the brand draws the most customers.

Even in the economic downturn over 10 years ago, “being a Jeep dealer was one of the strongest brands to have,” Scott Jr. said.

“People who own a Jeep get excited,” he said. “It’s more than just a car. It’s a lifestyle.”

Ram is second to Jeep, the president said.

Among the popular services Jeep customers seek are lift kits. Katie noted on a recent week, three were completed.

The Brittinghams said lift, wheel and tire work completed by a Mopar tech keeps the warranty valid.

“It’s super popular,” Scott Jr. said.

Nearly 150 vehicles, approximately 80 new and 40 used, are featured on the dealership’s lot.

Scott Jr. said as a small dealership — compared to the larger dealerships in bigger towns and cities — the biggest misconception they fight is the “perception that if a customer goes to a larger dealer, they’ll get a better price.”

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“They’re always fair, always competitive,” said Richard Sher of New Milford, who has purchased several vehicles since 1980.

Sher said he appreciates the family-run dealership being local and his being able to support it.

“They’re in tune with what they’re selling...and take care of any issues,” he said. “They’re good on all aspects.”

Customer service is a priority, the owners said.

“It’s a scary time to be in car business but at the end of the day, our rapport and customer service are the most important thing,” Scott Jr. said.

Leston has “confidence” in Wetmore’s staff, products and service. His family has purchased three or four Jeeps from the dealership and has referred numerous family members and friends.

He praised the consistent quality and service. “They go above and beyond.”

Scott Jr. said the service department is active, with five techs on staff.

“We try to get people in and out while they wait,” Scott Jr. said. Loaner cars are also available.

Scott Jr. said he appreciates the commitment many customers make by being return customers, some of whom purchased vehicles when his grandfather and father owned the business.

If Wetmore’s doesn’t have what a customer wants on site, Wetmore’s will locate a dealer partner to “keep the business in town,” the Brittinghams said.

“When other dealers won’t, Wetmore’s will,” Katie said, citing the business’ slogan.

Scott Jr. said customers appreciate walking into their business and having the opportunity to speak with the owners.

That hometown feel is part of the reason some customers — including those from out of town — do business with Wetmore’s.

“There’s something to be said about a small dealership,” Leston said.

“When you go in, you feel connected … it’s impressive,” he said, citing how challenging that can be in today’s world.

Leston said Wetmore’s “is not so concerned with growth (like large dealerships), but rather they want to maintain the quality” of the business.

The Brittinghams emphasized their gratitude to the community for supporting the business throughout its history.

To that end, they give back to the community through its sponsorship of The Big Jeep Thing.

The event, originally held on dealership property, celebrated the Jeep in the form of a car show.

When the company partnered up with Harrybrooke Park in town four years ago, the format expanded. It now includes a car show, a rock garden, a mud pit, a teeter totter/balance, vendors and food.

“It’s a nice day and is fun to watch,” Katie said.

This year’s event raised more than $9,000 in four hours - the most ever raised, Katie said.

For information, call Wetmore’s, located at 333 Danbury Road (Route 7), New Milford, at 860-354-3963 or visit www.wetmoresonline.com.