Written by David Castellon
Most of Merles Stone’s adult life revolved around cars.
Though he worked mornings milking cows at a Sanger-area dairy before attending class at Sanger High School, after school he worked at an auto body shop.
He enlisted during World War II and became an Army Air Corps bomber pilot, though the war ended before he could fly any actual missions.
After returning home, he worked a few jobs owning or working for car dealerships in Fresno and Sanger before meeting a Chevrolet representative who introduced him to a dealer in Exeter who sold him a stake in the business in April 1957, with an agreement to sell the younger man the entire business within a year.
That was the start 70 years ago of Stone Chevrolet, which included a new and used car lot on the front yard of Stone’s house across the street.
In 1967, the business relocated to its current location in Tulare — and added “Merle” to the dealership’s name — making this year the golden anniversary at its current location.
In October 1994 Merle Stone Chevrolet opened its second Chevrolet lot in Porterville.
Both Merle Stone dealerships employ 76 people and combined sold more than 2,000 cars last year.
After Stone’s passing in 1990, his sons, Larry and David, took over full ownership and management of the dealerships.
“I think the biggest lesson in the car business growing up was the car business is a service business, and we are here to serve the customer. And if we do a good enough job serving the customer, the money takes care of itself,” said Larry Stone of his father’s business philosophy.