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Driving on Highland Avenue, between Park Avenue and 11th Street, chances are you’ve seen the marquee announcing birthdays and anniversaries in front of Miller Auto Sales.
The sign was purchased to advertise autos for sale, but owner Dean Miller Sr. says it never has. Instead, it has always been there to alert passersby of occasions being celebrated by their friends and neighbors in the county.
The marquee has been so popular, they’ve added a second one to advertise upcoming events for churches and schools.
Miller and his father, William, have been selling used cars in Carroll County for close to 50 years; and though the sign is not a money-maker, the hundreds of drivers passing by read it almost daily.
William, who served in the U.S. Army in Germany during the Korean War, said he has always had a love for cars. When he came back from the service, William said he had a little money saved and decided to open a gas station and sell used cars as a sideline.
William soon found that the money was in selling cars – not gasoline – at his service station/car lot in Worthville, so he moved in that direction with his business.
William has operated car lots up and down Highland; even though he retired in 1998, he’s at Dean’s car lot daily updating the birthday sign and visiting with everyone who comes in.
William also can be found visiting with friends daily at the Senior Citizens center on Sixth Street.
Dean worked for his father as he was growing up – cleaning cars, jumping batteries, “doing anything I was told,” he said.
Dean began his business in 1975 in Worthville after he graduated from Sullivan University [then Sullivan College]. With his degree in business management and five cars worth $500 or $600 each, he set out on his own.
“The business was right next to city hall and the building still has my name on the side of it,” Dean said.
Dean said one time he had a carload of people pull in who had just gotten paid for working in tobacco. They test-drove all the cars and bought every one of them.
“Back in the ’70s, Carrollton was pretty far away from Worthville,” Dean said. “It was a totally different place. When I was 17, we had three grocery stores, a restaurant, a barbershop, three garages and an auction house.”
Several fires over the years destroyed the three grocery stores, the barbershop and his grandmother’s house.
“Years ago when the railroad stopped there, [Worthville] was a pretty big thing.”
Dean moved his car lot to Carrollton in the late 1970s for more business. His dad had a lot where the library is now located, and Dean opened his lot where Buildings and More is now.
Dean bought his current location from Ira Louden in the early 1980s, and Ira jokes that he filled in for Dean when he and wife Carol went on a belated honeymoon. Though he only planned to work there for a few weeks, he hasn’t left yet.
Both Millers have tried to sell good used cars that are reliable and could be financed. William said one time he was co-signed onto $300,000 worth of loans. He said he hasn’t been “burned” too often by people not repaying the notes.
Dean says the market he targets is families who need a second car or a car for a student. He tries to offer cars for under $10,000 in a variety of makes and models.
Currently, he has 45 vehicles on his lot, but he has had as many as 100 at a time.
The current economy has slowed sales down, but up until November, Dean said he was having a great year. December is traditionally slow, but this December has been slower than normal, he said.
Miller is and has been involved in a number of business ventures, including a furniture store, residential rentals, a gas station, a body shop and a taxi-cab company. He recently bought and now operates Muffler Pro, located next to his car lot.
Dean’s three children, Deannie Jr., Holly and Billy, all worked at the car lot when they were in high school. But, he has discouraged them from getting into the business because it takes up so much time.
“I’ve worked six days a week my whole life,” Dean said, adding that he closed the furniture store because having the two businesses took up all his time.
Dean goes to auto auctions mainly in Cincinnati to buy the vehicles he sells, because he knows the dealers there better. He said he tries to buy the best cars he can for his lot.
William said that he was tired of going to the auctions, and that was one of the reasons he retired. The auctions are a weekly thing that has to be done, and can be a real grind, he said.
Dean cut his political teeth early serving as student body president at both Carroll County High School and Sullivan College. Since then, he has served 12 years as a magistrate on Carroll County Fiscal Court. His son, Dean, has followed that path and is in his second term on Carrollton City Council.
Dean recalls two other times when business was slow like right now: in 1978 and sometime in the ’80s. He estimates business is off about 25 percent right now.
But he is a pragmatist about the future of the business, and admitted that he can’t see himself in retirement.