Berthod Motors a family tree with deep roots in Glenwood Springs
August 19, 2013
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — An old acquaintance of Fred Gerbaz’s rolled through town recently with a restored Diamond T pickup truck on a trailer.
“He brought it by for me to take a look at,” Gerbaz said. “Turns out it was one I had sold to him back in 1950.”
From Diamond T’s, Hudsons, Nash Ramblers, Packards and the first Jeeps to be sold in Glenwood Springs during his early days working for Louis and Aline Berthod, to today’s line-up of Chrysler, Dodge/Ram, GMC, Buick and Jeep products, the longtime owner of Berthod Motors has sold a lot of cars and trucks over the years.
“We’ve gone from selling maybe one or two cars a month to, at one time, over 100 cars a month,” Gerbaz said during a recent chat at the newly expanded Berthod dealership at the corner of South Grand Avenue and 27th Street.
“It was a real fit for our area, because Jeeps were really the only way people could go out and bounce around to go fishing and hunting and hiking in places you couldn’t get to otherwise.”
Vice president and general manager of Berthod Motors
“It used to be that if we had four cars in the building at a time, that was a lot,” he said. “We didn’t have room for the kind of inventory we have to keep today. Things have changed a whole bunch since then.”
Like the Berthods back in the day, though, it’s still a family business to this day.
Fred Gerbaz, at age 84, is still active in the day-to-day operations, his wife Edna still handles much of the paperwork, and their son Don Gerbaz is vice president and general manager.
“Dad usually beats me in here in the mornings,” said Don Gerbaz, 45, who began working for his folks before he was even in high school and returned after earning his business administration degree at Colorado State University to help run the dealership in 1990.
“I roll in about 6:45 [a.m.], and mom goes and drops off the paperwork at the courthouse every morning,” he said. “These days, it’s 8 or 9 at night before I get out of here.”
The demands of an expanded dealership operation have even brought Fred back in to work on Sundays, although he said he did manage to get out and fly his plane, one of his favorite hobbies, on a recent Sunday.
The new dealership location, which is in addition to the Berthod Motors facility just up the street at 2914 S. Grand Ave., features a 21,000-square-foot sales center, four-vehicle indoor show room, parts counter and large service bay, plus an outdoor lot for 184 vehicles.
The new location officially opened on Aug. 1, and includes the Chrysler, Dodge/Ram and Jeep lines, while the former location still houses the GMC and Buick lines, used vehicles, and the farm and construction equipment side of the business that the Berthod’s introduced back in 1950.
The Gerbaz family will co-host a Glenwood Springs Chamber Business After Hours this Thursday, Aug. 22, at the new dealership location, in conjunction with the chamber’s celebration for its recent American Chambers of Commerce national chamber-of-the-year honors.
Immigrant success story
Louis Berthod came to the United States from Italy as a child, eventually landing in Glenwood Springs where, as a young man, he opened a small vehicle repair shop in 1944, Fred Gerbaz recounted.
In 1948, Berthod built the Tamarack building at the corner of 10th and Grand, which started as a franchise sales center for the short-lived Tucker make of vehicles.
Later that year, the fledgling Berthod dealership took on Hudson, which soon combined with Nash and eventually became American Motors Co.
“I went to work for Louis when I got out of high school,” said Gerbaz, who was born in Woody Creek and grew up in Carbondale and Redstone.
“I mostly just washed parts for the mechanics,” he said.
When Berthod took on farm equipment sales with Ferguson Tractors (later Massey Ferguson), Gerbaz got his break in sales.
“It was a long way between here and Aspen, and it was all farms,” said Gerbaz, adding that there used to be six machinery dealers in Glenwood Springs, including Massey Ferguson and New Holland implements, and a local John Deere dealership (which Gerbaz bought out in the 1980s).
Likewise, Glenwood Springs became the central location for auto dealerships in the Roaring Fork Valley, between Berthod’s AMC and Jeep brands, and the local Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Cadillac, Buick, Ford and Packard dealerships.
“Studebaker was in New Castle,” Gerbaz recalled.
Added son Don Gerbaz, “In those days people just didn’t go that far away to do business, and the trade was all pretty much local. Today, it’s nothing for people to go to Denver or Grand Junction to buy a vehicle.”
In 1960, Berthod moved the AMC/Jeep lines to the new South Grand location, which at the time was still State Highway 82 before the Glen Avenue route just up the hill was built.
Jeep, in particular, proved to be a boon for a vehicle dealership tucked away in the rugged terrain of the Rocky Mountains.
“It was a real fit for our area, because Jeeps were really the only way people could go out and bounce around to go fishing and hunting and hiking in places you couldn’t get to otherwise,” Don Gerbaz said.
Keeping the family focus
In 1969, Berthod sold the Tamarack building and two years later he and Aline retired and sold the dealership business to Fred and his wife, Edna (Bukowich) Gerbaz, who was born and raised in Glenwood Springs.
“The Berthod name was established, it was a good name and they were very customer-oriented, so in honor of Louis and Aline I thought I’d keep the name,” Fred Gerbaz said.
They also maintained the same family-oriented approach to the business, including grooming Don to eventually take on the business.
“I used to always stay with my aunt and uncle when mom and dad were working, but I always wanted to come out to the dealership and help,” Don Gerbaz said.
He remembered one of his first jobs was to make purchase form pads by taking blank forms and using the Berthod Motors stamp to customize them.
Even before he was officially hired in 1980, he was put to work weeding and cutting grass around the sales lot and building.
“I did parts, put together equipment, sales … you name the position, I’ve pretty much done all of it,” he said.
His only time away from the business was after he graduated from Glenwood Springs High School in 1986 and returned four years later with a college degree.
“I pretty much came right straight back and went to work here,” he said. “There was no big ceremony or anything for general manager, and we all still share duties anyway.”
Shiny new digs
The new state-of-the-art facility allowed Berthod to introduce the new Dodge/Ram and Chrysler lines, while moving the Jeep from the other location and freeing up more space up the road for the GM and Buick lines, plus the farm, construction and small equipment and related services.
“We think it looks a hair bit better than the old cabins that were here,” Don Gerbaz said of the former Knotty Pine Lodge, which had fallen into disrepair before it was torn down along with a pair of adjacent properties to make way for the new dealership.
Berthod worked with the Community Office for Resource Efficiency and Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER) to include several energy-efficient features in the building and on the lot, including LED and efficient fluorescent lighting, parking lot light dimmers and a 10-kilowatt solar panel system on the roof which shields the rooftop heating and air-conditioning units.
The vehicle service bay was also designed with required safety features to be able to service compressed natural gas vehicles.
“We are one of the few places around that is CNG-repair compliant,” Don Gerbaz said, explaining the special explosion-proof and automatic electric shut-down features that were designed into the facility.
“We also just sold our first CNG pickup,” he said of one of the new Dodge CNG pickups, which are starting to catch on with some of the local commercial fleet operators.
Berthod Motors will be the final stop as part of a regional CNG tour sponsored by CLEER on Aug. 28, which will include stops at CNG fueling stations in Grand Junction and Rifle, the opening of a new station in Parachute, and the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s CNG bus fueling station in West Glenwood. Other features of the Berthod sales and service facility include an enclosed drive-up for service customers, a large waiting room, including children’s play area, and an enclosed delivery bay where purchasers can pick up their new vehicles.