Auto Dynasties of the South


A legacy of family-run dealerships that have been selling cars for generations. 

The auto industry has had a long and storied relationship with the city of Savannah, going back to the era when Henry Ford took an interest in the Lowcountry and built his plantation in nearby Richmond Hill. In fact, the very first automotive recall in history came about when he chose to us our native Spanish moss as cushioning in his seats without first boiling off the chiggers. The First American Grand Prix was held on the streets of Savannah, running in a 25-mile loop starting on Victory Drive.

But if you really want to talk about the auto industry in Savannah, there are six powerful families whose names will come up again and again in the histories. Passing the torch from generation to generation, these families have come to define both the city and the cars we drive. Get behind the wheel with them, and see how they built their legacies


Vaden Family

Not every automotive family who defines Savannah can trace their lineage back across multiple generations of dealers. The Vaden family, for example, has become one of the city’s most iconic automotive families in just two generations.

Jane Vaden Thatcher is one of only 200 women to own a Chevy dealership out of the 4,000 Chevy dealerships nation-wide. She became the president of Vaden Automotive after taking the reins from her father Dan Vaden, who began Dan Vaden Chevrolet in a trailer after selling refridgerators door to door. Now as she carries her father’s legacy forward, she manages 10 dealerships that encompass seven different automotive brands and stewards a brand that has become a Savannah mainstay.

Jane’s success boils down to what she calls the “Vaden Way.”

“We do right by the employee and the customer,” says Jane.

The Vaden president makes it a priority to know every employee by name across all of their dealerships. They treat everyone like family, which means that same attitude extends to how they serve customers.

“It’s about being excellent at every opportunity,” says Jane. “My employees will often ask me about a certain solution and I’ll tell them I need to run on it instead of simply thinking about it. If my body is sharp, so is my mind.”

Jane and her husband Peter, who is heavily involved in day-to-day operations, have three kids, who have all been involved in the family business. Her employees say it isn’t uncommon for her to greet them with hugs.

“We try to maintain a family atmosphere,” she says. “People respond to being genuinely loved, and I think that’s what sets us apart.”


Kaminsky Family

Myron Kaminsky (center) with sons Adam and Ross. 
Myron, Danny, and Jay Kaminsky picked up where their father left off in the family business that was founded in the 1920’s. 
“I tried to dissuade my sons from going into the business,” he says. “But it was all they ever knew. Most businesses don’t last three generations, yet here we are.”
Today, the business is equally owned by five family members. 
“There’s a mutual respect and love. You have to have a respect for each other and a love for the business,” adds Myron. “There’s a lot you can say to family that you can’t say to employees, so even though working with family can be tough, I think it gives us an edge.”
The Kaminsky’s own three dealerships, Southern Motives Acura, Southern Motors Honda, and Southern Motors Chrysler - Dodge - Jeep - Ram. The elder Kaminsky says this would not be possible if his sons weren’t allowed to make decisions for themselves. 

“Guide. Don’t dictate. My sons’ generation brings a lot of great ideas to the table. They understand technologies that weren’t around in my day. The old way was that sons would work for their dads, but my sons are equal to me,” says Myron. “We plan on being here another hundred years and continuing to contribute to the community.”

The Kaminsky’s have been involved with Hospice Savannah for over 25 years, sponsoring children’s spring camps for children who have lost loved ones. 
“For us, it isn’t about just selling cars,” adds Myron. “We like giving back and also checking up on our customer’s after the sale. You can’t just sell one car to a customer and stay in business. You have to care about their experience.”


Critz Family

Three E-M-F racecars competed in the Tiedeman Cup Race in 1911, securing the top three 
positions. Today, number 33 sits in the Critz showroom. 

Dale Critz is the third generation of an 80 year-old business. He has been in the business 40 years himself.

“My grandfather died when I was fifteen years old. He was the original Critz and was a great merchandiser,” says Dale. “He wore a white sportcoat to send the subliminal message that we’d keep your stuff clean and take good care of you. My dad was probably the better businessman of the two. He’s 86 years old and still my best salesman. He did a masterful job of planning by selling me the business and then he stepped aside gracefully. The main thing my father taught me was that it’s not how much you sell — it’s how much you net that matters. Pricing is transparent and cost comparisons are available at the touch of a button these days, so you have to understand pricing models and cost structures since margins are getting squeezed.”

The Critz family owns two dealerships — a BMW dealership and a Mercedes, Buick and GMC dealership. But Critz attributes their success to giving back.

H. Dale Critz (right) and Dale Critz Sr. (left)
with the ​Buick Zone Manager in the 1950s.

“If you’re in retail and the community supports you, you have an obligation to pay it forward.”

“We’re more responsive to the community than a lot of people. It’s a mandate to give back. Currently, we do a lot for leukemia and lymphoma. I started a road race on Tybee in 2009. Now it attracts between 2,000 to 3,000 runners each spring. We’ve raised $600,000 for charities that support education and healthy living,” says Critz.


Welch Family

O.C. Welch started his career working for Curtis Lewis, one of the longest-lasting dealers in the Savannah area.

“I used to wash cars,” says Welsh. “I knew how to recondition cars, so I thought, ‘I should do this myself.’”

Today the colorful character, known for his love of goats, is thriving in business and as a force of positive change in the community. Welch was recently awarded the Ford Motors “Salute to Dealers” Award. The award is given to three Ford dealers each year for their unwavering commitment to community.

“I’d been nominated for the ‘Salute to Dealers’ three times, so it meant a lot to me,” says Welch. “The way life works is that the more you give, the more you receive.”

Welch is a founding member of 200 Club in Savannah and is also involved in United Way. He has also donated reward funds to agencies and individuals to help solve crimes, including the murders of Wesley Franklin and Shawntray Grant.

“I’ve put five men behind bars,” he says. “But for me it was about giving the victims’ families closure. Everyone deserves closure.”


Grainger Family

Bill Grainger was born into the automobile business. His father was a Ford dealer, going back to the 1940s. Bill bought his first dealership in 1978 in Savannah.

“My dad got involved in the industry because he just loved the auto world,” says Bill. “He started working at Ford until he bought out the dealership. I’m the second generation of Grainger. The third and fourth generation are also currently involved in the business.”

“I learned the value of hard work and a handshake. Your word is your bond. That’s from the time you start the deal until you finish it,” adds Bill. “But what’s really helped us thrive in this industry is the fact that we demand so much of ourselves and we focus on fostering an atmosphere of integrity.”

Bill’s sons are involved in the family business as well.

“It gives us an advantage because we’re all deeply involved with all hands on deck. The extra effort you get when you’re working as a family on a day-to-day basis adds up. Everyone is on the same page and shares the same pride for being in the auto business,” says Bill. “Our first priority is always customer satisfaction and we deal with customers face-to-face. We’re not running our business from New York City. We’re local and we’re proud of it.”


Roberts Family

Steve Roberts quickly outgrew his original 1989 location, and moved to a larger location in 1993. 

Self-made auto dealer Steve Roberts has been in the business for 30 years. Steve started off as a boat mechanic. One day, they needed another person on the floor to talk to customers about the boats. He made more money in that day than he did the entire week as a mechanic. From there, Steve went on to work for Jim Moran between selling Fords.

“After working for Jim for many years, I told him I was interested in owning my own dealership,” says Roberts. “Jim was the main Toyota distributor in the South and the biggest in the United States, spanning five states. We had a good working relationship and he approved me for what they call ‘dealer development’ where someone like me who couldn’t afford to outright by a dealership would earn stock in the company until they owned it. I repaid the back in three years.”

“My mechanical knowledge helped out because I could find ways to improve efficiency,” says Roberts. “I bought the dealership fully in 1989. Then moved to a 10,000-foot location in 1993. We quickly outgrew it until we settled on 66,000 square feet on 12 acres of land.

These days, Steve has an eye on retirement. As he tells it, the two things he’s most grateful for within the business are the warm reception and support he received from the people of Savannah and being able to pass on the business to his General Manager Scott Richey.

“One of the things that’s kept us going strong is that we spend less money on advertising and more money on customer experience,” adds Steve. “Ladies can get complimentary manicures and there’s always fresh popcorn and hotdogs and we have our little cinema room at Toyota.


Subscribe now to the print edition to read the full article or get instant access to our interactive digital edition.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Greatest Destinations 2020

Greatest Professional Photographers 2020

Calling South’s Greatest Photographers! Are you a professional photographer with beautiful work? Enter South’s Greatest Photographers 2020!
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Events Calendar

  • Savannah Pennysaver Job Fair

    Feb 20, 2020
    10:00 AM - 2:00 PM @ Charles H. Morris Center

    Lowcountry artists are invited to submit their works of art for The Society of Bluffton Artists’ (SOBA) 26th Annual Judged Show. Winners...

  • Confident Complexion – Love Your Skin at Bluemercury!

    Feb 13, 2020
    11:00 AM - 6:00 PM

    The beauty of makeup is that you’re in control of when and how you wear it—whether it’s to enhance, conceal or simply not to wear it at all....

  • American Traditions Vocal Competition Semi Finals

    Feb 20, 2020
    4:00 PM - 9:00 PM @ Skidaway Island United Methodist Church

    The 12 semifinalists compete for a spot in the finals as they sing their second program of American songs. The ATC requires singers to create...

  • 2020 American Traditions Vocal Competition

    Feb 17, 2020
    4:30 PM - 9:30 AM @ Skidaway Island United Methodist Church

    The American Traditions Vocal Competition (ATC) returns for its highly anticipated 27th anniversary season Feb. 17-21, 2020. With an outstanding...

  • Oglethorpe Mall Carnival

    Feb 20, 2020
    5:00 PM - 9:00 PM @ Oglethorpe Mall

    Experience the sights, sounds and aromas of the electrifying midway with rides and games for all ages, favorite fair food and Victoria Circus...

  • Sips for Spouses

    Feb 20, 2020
    5:30 PM - 8:00 PM @ Ghost Coast Distillery

    Who: Patriot Advantage, Hire Heroes USA and YOU! What: A fundraising event to benefit the nonprofit Hire Heroes: Serving Spouses Program Where:...

  • "Little Women"

    Feb 20, 2020
    7:00 PM - 9:00 PM @ Tybee Post Theater

    Nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, writer-director Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) has crafted a “Little Women” that draws on both the classic...

  • Julilette Gordon Low Birthplace Groundbreaking

    Feb 21, 2020
    12:30 PM - 2:00 PM @ Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace

    Girl Scouts of the USA is hosting an official groundbreaking ceremony to share information on current renovation work, future site highlights and...

  • American Traditions Vocal Competition Master Class

    Feb 21, 2020
    3:00 PM - 4:30 PM @ Savannah Cultural Arts Center: Ben Tucker Theatre

    Spend the afternoon with the judges as they work with contestants to perfect performances of select ATC songs. The ATC requires singers to create...

  • Magical Interventions feat. Ngil Mask, Fang People

    Feb 21, 2020
    4:00 PM - 5:00 PM @ Savannah African Art Museum

    Everyone knows that magic is everywhere and everyone knows that you should only use magic if it helps yourself and others. What if someone has...

  • Savannah Music Festival IPA Release featuring Roosevelt Collier & Jontavius Willis

    Feb 21, 2020
    7:30 PM - 9:30 PM @ Southbound Brewing Company

    On Friday, February 21, 2020, Savannah Music Festival and Southbound Brewing Co. will celebrate the release of this season's Wailin' IPA with a...

  • AURA Fest: Underground Weekend

    Feb 21, 2020
    7:30 PM - 11:45 PM @ The Jinx

    AURA Fest: Underground Weekend at The Jinx February 22, 2020 Torche, Bask, Oakskin, SHEHEHE, Knightsquatch February 21, 2020 Inter Arma, CLOAK,...

  • American Traditions Vocal Competition Finals

    Feb 21, 2020
    8:00 PM - 10:00 PM @ Savannah Cultural Arts Center: Ben Tucker Theatre

    Join the gala evening as finalists content for top prizes and the all-important ATC Gold Medal. The ATC requires singers to create three rounds of...

  • Retro Run 5K Race

    Feb 22, 2020
    8:00 AM @ Red Gate Farms

    The Retro Run is Feb 22nd at Red Gate Farms: 8am Kids Mile, 8:30 5k/10k start. Bring out the coolest clothing, hair and bling for this race. Finish...

  • Forsyth Farmer's Market

    Jun 29, 2019
    9:00 AM - 1:00 PM @ South end of Forsyth Park

    The Forsyth Farmers’ Market vendors offer a variety of local goods including seasonal produce, eggs, honey, pastured meat, bread, cheese,...

  • 17th Annual Savannah International Food & Wine Festival

    Feb 22, 2020
    3:00 PM - 6:00 PM @ Hellenic Center

    Come eat and drink for a cause! You are invited to participate in the Savannah International Food & Wine Tasting. The Tasting offers guests...

  • Savannah Philharmonic Cinephile du joure

    Feb 23, 2020
    5:00 PM - 7:00 PM @ Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Ascension

    The Blue Heron Chamber Ensemble goes to the movies to bring you Chamber works by film composers. Flutist Jeana Melilli, pianist Ben Warsaw and...

  • GratiTuesday Program with Liz Massey

    Feb 25, 2020
    12:00 PM - 1:30 PM @ Savannah Power Yoga

    Gratitude! What is it good for? Our general well-being!   Studies now show that the practice of gratitude actually enhances our immune systems....

  • Nature and the Arts: Botanical Art and Illustration

    Feb 25, 2020
    6:00 PM - 8:00 PM @ One Hundred Miles (OHM), Savannah Office

    Nature and the Arts: Botanical Art and Illustration Tuesday, February 25th • 6:00-8:00 pm OHM Savannah Office - 2424 Drayton Street, Savannah,...

  • 2020 Tak Argentinis Valor Awards

    Feb 27, 2020
    6:15 PM - 9:00 PM @ Charles H. Morris Center

    Join us as we honor some of the area’s most courageous first responders at the 2020 Valor Awards. Awards are presented to law enforcement, fire...

Show More...

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Scenes of the South

2020 Southern Coast Heart Ball

The American Heart Association held its annual Southern Coast Heart Ball on Saturday, February 8th at the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort and Spa. Guests enjoyed a cocktail reception with a silent auction, dinner and program, and dancing to end the evening. All proceeds went to the Open Your Heart campaign.

4th Annual Hearts for Healing Gala

Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center held its Fourth Annual Hearts for Healing Gala on Friday, February 7th at the Tybee Island Wedding Chapel. Guests enjoyed gourmet dining, dancing, and a silent auction. All proceeds from the auction benefitted the Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center's program for individuals with disabilities.

IDC Benefits the 200 Club of the Coastal Empire

The LeClerc Family owners of IDC (International Diamond Center) in Savannah 349 Mall Blvd held a benefit to support the 200 Club of the Coastal Empire on Thursday, February 6th from 5:30pm to 8:00pm. Guests enjoyed light food and drinks, while bidding on several silent auction items, including autographed footballs and helmets donated by Anthony Lanier II.

Royce Learning Center Annual Low Country Boil & Oyster Roast

The Royce Learning Center held their annual low country boil and oyster roast on Saturday, February 1st. Guests enjoyed mingling over the seafood selection. Royce Learning Center meets the needs of children and adults with learning differences and literacy needs through its unique programs.

Dining in the Dark 2020

The Savannah Center for Blind and Low Vision held its annual Dining in the Dark event on Saturday, January 18th at the Embassy Suites Downtown Savannah. Guests were served a four-course meal in complete darkness by the Savannah Metro's SWAT team. Dining in the Dark serves to raise awareness about vision loss.

January Brews for a Cause

South magazine in collaboration with Southern Eagle Distributing hosted their monthly Brews for a Cause on Thursday, January 16th at the Savannah Taphouse in a successful effort to raise money and awareness for the Savannah Center for Blind and Low Vision. The night featured delicious appetizers by Savannah Taphouse and a range of flavored Bud Light Seltzers provided by Southern Eagle. These events provide good food, fun entertainment, refreshing drinks and most importantly – raise money for a great cause! Be sure to be on the lookout for our next Brews in February!

Ford Plantation's Grand Opening & Ribbon Cutting for Silk Hope

The Ford Plantation celebrated the completion of its two new Silk Hope model homes on January 10, 2020. The Silk Hope project is limited to 53 homes, on beautiful lots of buyers’ choosing amongst old oaks and a Lowcountry marsh setting. This member-backed project is the first new for sale residential development at The Ford Plantation in more than fifteen years and represents the final phase of home development to be offered. The Silk Hope community is the product of a collaboration of some of the world’s top residential architects and landscape designers and has been modeled to capture tranquil European village and Lowcountry architecture.

Mat Best Signs his New Best-seller at Nine Line

Veteran, entrepreneur and author Mat Best met fans and signed copies of his new book “Thank you for my Service” Thursday Dec. 12 at Nine Line Apparel. Best’s best-selling authorial debut chronicles his service as a U.S. Army Ranger. Best's Black Rifle Coffee co., partnered with Nine Line Apparel, has shops on River st. and off route 95 on Ft. Argyle rd.

Victory Antiques and Engel & Völkers' Holiday Party

Dickey Mopper and his team at Engel and Völkers celebrated the season at their annual holiday party on Wednesday Dec. 11, with a special appearance from the jolly fellow himself, Santa Claus. Mopper and company, celebrating alongside the crew of Victory Antiques, showed off the newest Engel and Völkers office at 1650 East Victory Dr. in Savannah.

Good Times Jazz Bar & Restaurant's 2nd Anniversary Celebration feat. Lady Leah

Jazz lovers celebrated Good Times Jazz bar's second anniversary on Nov. 8 and 9 featuring jazz vocalist Lady Leah and the culinary stylings of Good Times' chef Joe Randall, the dean of southern cuisine. In 2017 Randall teamed with Danielle and Stephen T. Moore to create one of the city's smoothest spots, a confluence of culture and taste fit for the soul of Savannah.