Al Packer, 79, owned 12 car dearlerships along stretch of Belair Road and in Fla.

June 26, 1996|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Al Packer bought his first car one afternoon in 1943, but it never made it home. He sold it that evening -- launching a business that continues to this day.

Mr. Packer, 79, who died Sunday of heart failure at his Pikesville home, parlayed genuine salesmanship, a sense of daring and a gift for gab into five new car dealerships and five used car lots in the Baltimore area (all in a two-mile stretch of Belair Road) and two dealerships in Palm Beach, Fla.

For five decades, the name Al Packer has been synonymous with car sales in Baltimore, and Al Packer firmly believed that he never met a car he couldn't sell.

Or at least try to sell.

"He was a great salesman. He had a way of talking to everyone as an individual," said Bruce Russell, who recently retired after 32 years as a vice president and general manager for Al Packer Enterprises. "He seemed to know what your hot button was, and know what my hot button was."

The Al Packer dealerships sell cars at the rate of about 5,000 a year in Baltimore, according to Elliott Packer, Mr. Packer's son.

"He just loved selling cars because it just made him feel good," Elliott Packer said. "It was important for him to earn a good living and be successful."

A native of Philadelphia, Abraham Packer came to Baltimore in 1938 after marrying the former Gertrude Rosofsky in Atlantic City, N.J. She was a Baltimore native and they married after a six-week courtship. She nicknamed him Al.

The couple opened a grocery store on the bottom floor of their corner rowhouse in the 4000 block of Fairview Ave. in Northwest Baltimore. He read newspaper ads and, after an ill-fated attempt to buy a first car for his own use, bought cars he thought were resellable.

"He saw an ad for a car and went to buy it. It broke down on the way home and a guy asked how much he wanted for it," Mr. Packer said. "He told him and it was more than what he paid for it. He then had to go out and buy another car."

For several years, Al Packer sold cars and groceries from his house. It may have been the first of the modern malls, his son said. "He'd sell one at a time; the others were parked around the block."

He also had a brief foray into the candy business, and introduced Chunky candy bars to Maryland, Mr. Packer said.

"He went out of state and got a tractor-trailer full of them and brought them back to his store and sold them to distributors."

But his passion was car sales, and he closed the grocery store in the early 1940s when he opened a used car lot on Belair Road. One of his bigger enterprises was when he bought more than 200 used Fords from the state Health Department and resold all of them within 120 days.

Four years later, he called the Ford Motor Co. and asked, "Remember me?" -- a reference to an earlier attempt to acquire a dealership. The company did and he bought a dealership in Baltimore. It has since grown into one of the state's largest and most successful, employing about 300 people.

Dick Dickerson, parts manager for the Packer dealership, said although Mr. Packer was the company's top executive, he still would visit the shop's service areas to chew the fat with the mechanics and clerks.

"He would remember all of the people who worked for him. He was the boss, but he'd put you in a relaxed mood," Mr. Dickerson said. "He liked it when people worked for him for a long time because he knew he must be doing something right."

Mr. Packer also took chances, and during the gasoline crisis of 1974 he bought an auto dealership in Rockville, Mr. Russell said. Not surprisingly, the business succeeded.

"He wouldn't let it happen any other way," Mr. Russell said.

Still, although he sold thousands of cars, he never really owned one. "Personally, he always felt that any car he had around the house was for sale," his son said. "That was always his philosophy."

Survivors in addition to his wife and son Elliott Packer include another son, Mark Packer of Palm Beach, Fla.; a daughter, Natalie Freedman of New York City; and five grandchildren.

Funeral services are scheduled for 3 p.m. today at Sol Levinson and Bros. funeral home, 8900 Reisterstown Road in Pikesville.

Pub Date: 6/26/96

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