By Ashley Rogers
Birmingham Business Alliance
On Aug. 5, Edwards Chevrolet automotive company will celebrate its 100th year as a pillar in the downtown Birmingham community.
Through success and challenges during those 100 years in the Magic City, Edwards Chevrolet has grown to be the fourth oldest family-owned Chevrolet dealership in the nation and the second largest wholesale parts reseller in the Southeast, selling and delivering parts for 45 different trucks throughout a five-state area.
It all started when Sterling Edwards Jr. – father and grandfather of current owners Leon Edwards and his son Lee Edwards – arrived in Birmingham in 1911. He first worked in banking and then in car sales before opening his own Chevrolet dealership in downtown Birmingham in 1916. Nearly 30 years later, Edwards would build a new dealership at its current location on Third Avenue North in downtown.
Edwards Chevrolet has weathered economic downturns, high interest rates, wars, strikes and fire after its building was ablaze in 1966 and Leon Edwards said the company has cultivated two very important things that have been essential to success.
“Loyal employees and a good customer base helped overcome the obstacles of the times,” he said. “We’ve held some of the same employees for 51 years or more.”
That loyalty hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Edwards family. Leon Edwards said he has assisted four of his past employees with funds to start their own automotive dealerships – Lynn Layton Chevrolet in Decatur; Conrad Hawkins Chevrolet in Jacksonville, Fla.; Ronnie Watkins Ford in Gadsden; and Colonial Chevrolet-Buick Inc. in Talladega.
Since the Birmingham location was such a success for the Edwards family, expansion was inevitable. The Edwards opened a second location by Oporto Madrid Boulevard, but eventually moved that location to Highway 280 in 2007 because of the prospects the high-growth residential area offered.
Leon Edwards is proud his company has been in downtown Birmingham for 100 years and is looking forward to future developments in the Birmingham community.
“With the renovations of Jefferson Tower, The Redmont Hotel and the formation of the Pizitz Building, I see a bright future for Birmingham that we are excited to be a part of,” he said.
The Edwards have enjoyed making a difference throughout the years. In 1995, Leon Edwards served as president of the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), representing 20,000 car dealers nationally.
So, what about the next 100 years for Edwards Chevrolet? They are hopeful the business will remain in the family.
“Since he was a child, Lee always held a fervent passion and interest in the business,” Leon Edwards said about his son. “Hopefully, that passion will pass on to Lee’s 16-year-old son (Lee Edwards III) so that our automotive company will continue being a staple in the Birmingham community for many years to come.”
Ashley Rogers is communications specialist for the Birmingham Business Alliance.