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The end of a legacy

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013 4:19 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013 4:21 p.m. CDT
(BCR photo/Donna Barker)
Browning dealership owners (from left) Tim and Robin Browning and Kay Browning pose for a photograph with the dealership's new owners Karen and Tom Prescott and Juli and Jason Leifheit, owners of the Prescott Brothers dealership. The ownership transition has been completed and marks the end of a three-generation era for the Browning business in Princeton.

PRINCETON — After nearly 50 years in business in Princeton, the Browning car dealerships have been sold to the Prescott Brothers car dealership, based in Mendota and Rochelle.

Tim Browning, owner of the Browning dealership, made the announcement, saying the decision to sell the longtime family business was not an easy one, but Prescott Brothers is a perfect fit as the new owner.

Tom Prescott and Jason Leifheit, owners of Prescott Brothers, were at the Browning Ford building last week for a Thanksgiving meal with the Browning employees. The transfer of ownership was completed this week.

Browning company founder Glenn Browning started in the Ford car business in 1945 in Bradford before moving his business in 1964 to Princeton. He built a new building in 1969 on West Peru Street in Princeton, which is still home to the Ford dealership. In the 1980s, the Browning family bought the Chrysler franchise and located that part of the company in a showroom just one mile east of the Ford dealership.

Glenn Browning, who turns 100 years old Dec. 28, ran the family business until his retirement in the 1980s. At that time, his son Don Browning bought and operated the dealerships until his death in November 2003, at which time Don’s son, Tim Browning, became the owner.

At last week’s announcement, Tim Browning said the decision to sell the family business was not made quickly or easily, but was one he felt was best for the Browning employees and dealerships.

Looking at reasons leading to the sale, Browning said it has become very difficult to be a single, stand-alone car dealer. The ones who are successful and striving have several locations and can share resources, inventories and people. Also, it became very complicated for him to live in Indiana and own a dealership in Princeton, Ill., Browning said.

As the new owner, Prescott Brothers can share resources from their various locations and have some great ideas for improving the properties, Browning said. Those improvements are things which the Ford and Chrysler companies want done anyway, for the small dealerships to have showrooms which would be just like ones in cities, he said.

Since Prescott Brothers has a Chrysler dealership in Mendota and a Ford dealership in Rochelle, getting the sale approved by Ford and Chrysler was easy, Browning added.

Discussion with Prescott Brothers has been ongoing for a year, and he’s pleased with this decision, especially since no one else in his family wanted the business, Browning said. The bigger dealerships are buying up the littler dealers, and Browning is a part of that, he said.

“I feel satisfied that this a good ending, but there is a sadness that Browning Ford won’t exist anymore. But there’s a lot worse ways Browning Ford could come to an end,” Browning said. “This community has been very good to the Browning family for many years. The community has generated a lot of good things for our family, and we appreciate that.”

Again, the sale of the Browning dealerships to Prescott Brothers has been a friendly acquisition and one that will serve the community well into the future, Browning said.

In his comments, Tom Prescott said he has always liked the Princeton area, and the purchase of the Browning dealerships fits well into Prescott Brothers’ footprint in Northern Illinois. All the Browning franchises will stay with Prescott Brothers.

Looking to the future, Jason Leifheit said the changes that will come will be primarily concerning improvements to the building and property. As of now, no changes are expected in the staff under the new ownership, he said.

However, one huge change which will be evident to customers will be the size of inventories, with Prescott Brothers having an estimated 300 used cars available, Prescott said.

Also, Leifheit said customers will see increased options for financing to help people get a vehicle within their budget. He also said changing from one family-owned business to the next, Prescott Brothers of Princeton will remain a hometown-type of business. He said both Prescott and himself are small town guys, and they want to keep that feeling in the company, which is really no different than what area people were already used to experiencing under the Browning dealership.

Prescott and Leifheit said they are looking forward to becoming better acquainted in the Princeton area as the doors close to the Browning car dealerships and reopens as Prescott Brothers of Princeton.

Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.

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