STANTON — After 40 years of ownership and ready to welcome retirement, John Bookwalter didn’t have to look far in finding the right person to hand the keys of his car dealership to.
Having owned Bookwalter Chevrolet-Buick since acquiring it in 1977, Bookwalter has employed numerous people, from high school students to longtime community residents, and in looking toward the future he chose one of his dedicated staff members in Brandon Stowell.
“Brandon has worked for me since he was 18. He’s local, he’s a good kid and he knows what he’s doing,” Bookwalter said. “I’m very happy to turn the dealership over to him. It’s great for the community to have locally owned people.”
Stowell, 32, started by washing cars at the dealership while in high school, and is a 2003 graduate of Central Montcalm High School.
Over the past 18years, he steadily worked his way up the ranks at the dealership, from car-washer to business manager, and now dealership president.
Being a lifelong Stanton resident, Stowell said it was very important to him that the dealership remain locally owned, especially for the 26 employees on staff.
“Sometimes someone from out of town can come in and take over a place and you don’t know what’s going to happen to the employees,” he said. “To me, to be able to take over and retain everybody here, this wasn’t just about me, it was about everybody else.”
But Stowell didn’t act alone in his venture to purchase the dealership from Bookwalter, as he found a partner — though he comes with a bit of a height disparity.
Thirteen-year NBA veteran Chris Kaman, standing at 7-feet tall, will now stand side-by-side as the dealership’s vice president with Stowell, who at 5-feet, 5-inches tall, can only chuckle as he looks up at Kaman.
“We’ve grown to become pretty good friends,” Stowell said. “He likes it and he’s here quite a bit. He’s very involved, selling cars with us, but yeah, we’re kind of the Penn and Teller of the car business.”
Kaman, 34, who owns a residence in Eureka Township with his wife and two children, said he was excited to become a business owner in Montcalm County, which he has grown fond of over time.
A 2000 graduate of Tri-unity Christian High School in Wyoming, Kaman knows the area well, as for three years he would commute between Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, where he played Division I basketball for three years, to his family in the Grand Rapids area.
“I live in Greenville now so it’s not like a crazy drive. It takes about 17 minutes to get there (the dealership),” he said. “I’m just kind of looking for something to do. What’s something that’s always changing and interesting? A car dealership.”
Kaman played with five NBA teams (Los Angeles Clippers, New Orleans Hornets, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers) over 13 years since being drafted with the sixth overall pick by the Clippers in 2003.
As an unrestricted free agent, he sat out the current 2016-2017season, but hasn’t ruled out a potential comeback for a contending team.
“I haven’t made an official decision. My body is telling me I need a break, but I’m feeling better and better every day,” he said. “I’m trying to get myself back in shape, but I’ve also been away from it for so long. It’s hard to go back to sometimes, especially with a family and everything. I played for five different teams and that’s hard on the family.”
In the meantime, Kaman said he’s excited to pursue his new venture at Bookwalter, and will be on hand during the dealership’s “Family and Community Grand Opening Week” beginning Monday, where he’ll be available to sign autographs as the dealership also gives away a number of prizes.
“My dad worked on cars as I grew up and I’ve been doing it ever since, especially muscle cars,” he said. “Being involved with the dealership now, it will be exciting.”
According to Stowell, sale prices will be given on all vehicles, and prize giveaways will occur every day during the dealership’s extended hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
“Saturday, at the end of the day, we’ll be giving away a brand new car,” he said. “It’s going to be exciting.”
Both Stowell and Kaman said they hope next week serves as a way to help introduce themselves to members of the community, something they also kept in mind when making the decision to keep the Bookwalter name.
“We both decided that, with the name … John had the name for 40 years, and it’s not just known in Stanton, we have a customer base all over the United States. We’d like to carry on that name for another 40 to 50 years if we can,” Stowell said. “John’s always been there for me … he took care of me, he was like a dad to me.”
In looking at the future, Bookwalter said he’s excited to see where Stowell and Kaman take the business, as sales have already increased since the official paperwork was signed on Jan. 18.
“I’m just tickled to death. I couldn’t be happier,” Bookwalter said. “This is the best thing in this community. At 32 years old, to be owning a dealership, that’s good, because it’s a young person’s business.”
For more information about the Grand Opening Week, call Bookwalter Chevrolet-Buick, located at 335 Sheridan Road, at (989) 831-5271.