Jim Williams had hoped to tell his customers personally he is closing Southworth Sales & Service at the end of this week.

Yet his loyal customers are many and word got out before he could say good bye to each and everyone of them.

"I've been in business a long time, with customers who are family to me," Mr. Williams said Tuesday. "I've put my heart and soul into this business and worked with and sold to good people."

Southworth Sales & Service on Danbury Road (Route 7 South) is a family business opened in 1952 by Walter Southworth as a Chrysler dealership.

Mr. Williams started working there in 1964.

In 1986, he bought the business. Four years ago, the business was changed to a pre-owned car dealership and auto center.

"I'm not going to whine. I'm going to walk out with my head held high," Mr. Williams said. "Was my situation compounded by losing Chrysler, by the economy, by cash-for-clunkers businesses, of course it was.

"But everybody's in the same boat with me," he added. "Whether they're selling cups of coffee or cars, we've all taken a hit with the economy."

In 2008, Mr. Williams put the property up for sale: the price tag was $2.5 million. The For Sale sign came down after a time because there were no buyers.

Mr. Williams opted then to retain the business as a pre-owned car dealership and automotive center. Southworth also operated an emissions testing center.

"I had a plan, thought it would work. My guys were behind me 100 percent," Mr. Williams said. "Then, I told them two weeks ago we'd be closing at the end of the month and they've all stood by me."

The news of Southworth closing came as a surprise said Mr. Southworth, the founder.

"It's news to me. I haven't heard a word," he said Tuesday.

Frank Wargo, the town's Economic Development Commission chairman, said Tuesday, "They fell on hard times... it's too bad."

Mayor Pat Murphy lauded Mr. Williams and his staff for their "community involvement."

"They will be missed. Someone from Southworth's is probably at every event in town," the mayor said.

In recent years, Southworth had suffered the same fate as many new-car dealers. The business strived to stay alive despite economic pressures, as well as the damage they continually suffered due to the periodic flooding of Route 7, Mr. Wargo suggested.

The 4.5-acre property, located just south of Veterans Memorial Bridge along the banks of the Housatonic River, has repeatedly flooded when the river rose. Widening of Route 7 four years ago brought an increase to the occurrences of and severity of the flooding, business owners along the road believe.

Mr. Williams cited personal losses at Southworth over six weeks of flooding in September at $126,000.

Yet Tuesday, he said, "people make too much of the losses from flooding. I've got a location that far outweighed the inconvenience of being closed a few days a year."

The business closing news does not come as a shock to other local automobile industry operators who have heard rumors for more than a week. Yet they clearly lament the loss.

Robert Driscoll Jr., a town native and an owner of Auto Technics, located across the street from Southworth, said this business has been around throughout his life and he will be sad to see it go.

"It's unfortunate,'' said Mr. Driscoll, who said he heard last week Southworth would close March 30. "It seemed like they were doing okay, but I guess they were just hanging on. It's hard to say.''

Mr. Driscoll noted in recent years the town has lost almost all of its long-time, new-car dealerships. Wetmore Jeep/Dodge still sells new cars and Bennett Automotive while has its pre-sale stock.

The Southworth property is considered prime real estate despite being in a flood zone, but Mr. Wargo said there are restrictions as an aquifer protection area that could pose challenges for sale.

"I'm going to walk out with my head held high. Was my situation compounded by losing Chrysler, by the economy, by cash-for-clunkers businesses, of course it was."

Jim Williams

Southworth Automotive owner