Salmon opened his first used car lot on Shorter Avenue, adjacent to the property where Shorter Avenue Baptist Church now sits, in 1962. He and a cousin put in $1,500 apiece and opened the lot with five cars.
Fast forward 50 years and Salmon now owns a much bigger lot at one of the busiest — soon to be even busier — intersections in Rome, as well as a vehicle rental business with locations in Rome, Cartersville and Norcross.
Yes, a lot of people have bought a used car from this salesman. In fact, Salmon could not even guess how many cars he’s sold during the last five decades.
Salmon credits a lot of his success to his upbringing by parents Raymond and Joyce Salmon. He said he also owes a lot to his initial experience in the work world at the age of 10 when he started delivering Rome News-Tribune newspapers on a bicycle.
Rome should have known back in the late 1950s that Sherold Salmon was going to be a successful businessman. He grew his initial paper route from about 160 customers a day that he serviced himself to a point where he had 17 paper boys working under him, distributing more than 4,200 papers a day.
But he always had bigger things in mind.
From papers to cars
Salmon always had a love of cars and was almost obsessive-compulsive about keeping his car clean.
In 1960 he started to work with Julian Harrison’s Ford dealership that was located where the Citizens First Bank main branch is now in downtown Rome.
“I got a lot of good experience there,” Salmon said.
Two years later he decided to go into business with his cousin Warren Lindsay, and they bought an old barbershop building on Shorter Avenue, financing it for $30 a month.
About a year later the business was doing well enough that they decided to move to Avenue C (now known as Martha Berry Boulevard), where a Wendy’s now sits.
Salmon sold his share of the business to Lindsay after the management at Dempsey Anderson dealership (American Motors) lured him away to become the head of their used car sales for a couple of years before he decided to open his own lot again in 1968.
Jess Lofton helped him find a piece of property at the corner of North Fifth Avenue and Turner McCall Boulevard. The property cost $25,000, which caused Salmon many a sleepless night.
“It just scared me to death,” Salmon said. “I thought about it and thought about it. I really was feeling almost sick. I just didn’t know which way to go.”
Salmon even took his wife Jean for a trip to the New Orleans Theological Seminary to talk with their friend Talmadge Barnes.
“When I got back I just had the peace that was what I wanted,” Salmon said. “Basically I went out on faith.”
Salmon and his wife sold their house, using the equity in it, along with a $25,000 line of credit, to make the purchase, and the business has been at that corner ever since.
“I started buying cars up in late December,” Salmon said. “I was parking them out at my dad’s house, and I had customers calling me and going out to daddy’s and buying them while I was in the process of fixing this place.”
The business has truly been a family operation through the years.
“Lots of times we would put the kids in the back seat of the car and drive to Atlanta to the new car stores and buy our inventory,” Salmon said. “We wouldn’t get home until 9 or 10 o’clock at night with the kids asleep in the back seat.”
When his sons Ramey and David Salmon grew up and got involved in the business, they started talking about purchasing adjacent properties and building what the Sherold Salmon Auto Superstore looks like today.
Salmon runs both a wholesale and retail operation from the Rome lot. His son Ramey does the biggest part of the buying and wholesaling. David is in charge of the day-to-day operations of the business and supervises the Rome office.
Salmon started the rental business, originally known as S&S Rental & Leasing (for Salmon and Sons) in 1980, again with five vehicles, and hasn’t looked back. The name of the rental business was changed to AutoMax at the urging of his son David — after all something with an A would be first in the Yellow Pages.
The rental business now pushes about 200 vehicles across the three-store fleet.
“We offer a good service with our buses,” Salmon said. “A lot of churches are not able to afford a van or bus. We supply them for a day, or whatever they need, and it’s a big help to them financially.”
Through the years, Salmon has been named Quality Dealer of the Year by the Georgia Independent Automobile Dealers Association twice, was appointed to the state board that oversees used care dealers by Gov. Joe Frank Harris and served on that panel for 10 years, including two terms as chairman.
The soon to be 73-year-old Salmon said there’s nothing he would rather do than get up every morning and come to the office.
Well, there is one other thing. Remember Salmon’s love of shiny, classic cars? He has a collection of about two dozen vintage vehicles that he loves spending time with. A couple of 1957 Chevrolets are his pride and joy. One is a turquoise and white convertible, while the other is a candy apple red two-door coupe.
Other than perhaps a couple of slow months 2012 has been a good year.
“For the three or four years that the economy has been bad we’ve been blessed,” Salmon said. “We should be making more profits than we do, but I’m just thankful to have a place to come to every day. I love it. I love meeting people and helping people.”