LIMA — There were plenty of hurdles that could have tripped up the Ahl car dealerships on their way to celebrating a half-century in business, but ask Tom Ahl and he'll name two things that helped them make it all the way: Faith and family.The Tom Ahl Family of Dealerships will celebrate 50 years in business with a party Thursday. In addition to free food and other activities, the dealership will give out 50 prizes, one to match every year in business. The top winner will drive off in a brand new Buick Verano courtesy of the dealership.“We just wanted to come up with a way to thank Limaland for 50 great years. Lima has been really good to us,” Ahl said.The history of the dealership starts with Tom's dad. In 1962, Bill Ahl sold cars for a dealership in Columbus. He spent years in the restaurant business, but he decided he liked the car game better. Coming back to Lima to visit his wife Peg's family, he realized there was no Buick dealership in town and suspected the market was ripe for one. That's where one of those hurdles came into play.“Mom didn't want to come back, and they didn't have the money, but they sold everything they had, double-mortgaged the house and we moved back,” Ahl said. Bill Ahl opened his Buick dealership on High Street and began to sell cars. Peg Ahl, who had taught business classes at New Bremen High School during World War II, managed the office and took care of the books. Tom, who was 11 at the time, pitched in on some of the less glamorous work.“We had come to town, and I was a kid at the time. I really didn't have any friends in town, so they would bring us to work. I did everything, cleaning rest rooms, sweeping floors. When I turned 12 I started doing more things. Eventually I worked in every part if the business,” Ahl said. Eventually the business grew. In 1971, the family moved the dealership to its current location on Allentown Road. Two years later, it added a Mercedes-Benz franchise. In 1974, it decided to add American Motors to their lineup. That, Ahl said, was another of those make-it-or-break-it moments for the business.“I was 23 years old. We had six used cars and a handful of AMCs to sell and a $50,000 note that needed to be paid in 90 days,” Ahl recalled. “That's one of those times when you were so dumb, you didn't know you couldn't do it.”They did do it and kept growing. In 1981, it became a Chrysler dealer. Since then, it added and dropped other lines, opened or helped start new dealerships in Findlay, St. Marys and Lima and grew to one of the biggest new and used car dealers in the region.There were other challenges along the way, not the least of which was Bill Ahl's death in 1990. Just two years earlier, suffering from cancer, he had stepped back from the business. Suddenly, Tom found his name on the business he had always associated with his dad.“I really didn't know what to do. I just let his managers run it until, one day, I finally woke up and realized I had to get involved. It was always his business, so it was hard for me to really take over,” Ahl said. He did take over, and the business grew. In time, Ahl started to question what was really important in life. He realized his faith needed to be a priority. It played a major role in his business ever since. Not only does Ahl publicly discuss his faith, but he uses his profits to support programs to help others find a similar path.“I realized it's all His. God is the real reason for my success, and over time I dedicated our business to the Lord, and I realized the way we treat our customers is a testimony to that. At least it should be,” Ahl said. Today, Ahl continues to run the daily operation and his mom, now 90, keeps her hand in the business, including managing a 50-car rental fleet. Mindy Ahl, at 26, the youngest of Tom's four daughters, is prepped to be the next generation in the Ahl Family of Dealerships.“Without family, we just wouldn't have made it,” Ahl said. “It's been a busy 50 years, and we hope we have a whole lot more of them.”You can comment on this story at www.limaohio.com.
Tara Cutlip, 21 and pregnant with her second child, was shot and killed Saturday in her Bahama Drive home. Loved ones gather in front of Tara's home to remember her and speak out against domestic violence.