JANUARY 11, 2018 – Ira Rosenberg’s name has been synonymous with car dealerships on the North Shore for the last 50 years. A native of Malden, Rosenberg rose from modest roots to become one of the most successful auto dealers in New England. He owned seven dealerships on Route 114 in Danvers before selling them about 20 years ago. Over the years, he has become increasingly involved with many charities and foundations. Ira and his wife Judy live in Marblehead and Boca Raton, Fla. They have three children, David, Brian and Lori, and eight grandchildren.
* * *
Ira, please tell us about your upbringing.
I grew up in Malden. My father was raised in Quebec and my mother was born in Stoughton. My father was a butcher. I have a sister, Sandra, who moved to Israel over 20 years ago. I grew up on Mt. Vernon Street – right down the street from Arthur Epstein, who to this day is one of my best friends.
There was anti-Semitism in Malden growing up. There was always a group of non-Jews ready to beat us up and call us names. I don’t believe Jews should turn the other cheek; they should fight back.
As a kid, I worked as a soda jerk at the local drug store, a job I loved.
You joined the Navy at 17?
Yes. I didn’t like school, I wasn’t the best student in the world and I didn’t care. So, in 1955, I quit high school and joined the Navy at the age of 17, much to my parents’ chagrin. I was stationed on the USS Forrestal for the next two years, not realizing how that would change me forever. I had a lot of responsibility on the ship. Soon I became the youngest third class Aviation Boatswain’s Mate. What an adventure for a kid!
How did you get into the car business?
I got out of the Navy, and was working at Porter Chevrolet in Cambridge, changing tires in the used car department, while attending Suffolk University. In 1958, I left school and worked at Porter Chevrolet full time. The first car I sold was a ’59 Chevy Impala, with a white painted roof and turquoise bottom. I sold it for full price. I said, ‘This isn’t so hard.’
In 1961, I left Porter Chevrolet to start a career selling products on the road. I definitely felt this was not going to work out for me.
In 1963, my wife saw a job listing for working at a car dealership. I immediately went down to Sea Crest Cadillac Pontiac on the Lynnway and applied for a job. After waiting for three days, they finally gave me a job on a 30-day trial basis. After a month, I learned that other salesmen were stealing my customers. I knew that I had to become a lion to become the top salesman there. After that, I decided I wanted my own dealership – and at the age of 30, I opened up a little used car lot on Highland Ave. in Salem, with two borrowed used cars and my last paycheck of $140.
After six years, I heard about a Toyota dealership on High Street in Danvers that was going broke. So I went home, I got a suit, and I borrowed another dealer’s Cadillac, and drove to the Toyota dealership and went into the place like a big shot. I went into the owner’s office and we agreed on a deal in 15 minutes. Rather than cash, I offered to take over his creditors.
In 1976, I moved from downtown Danvers to Route 114 to a closed doughnut shop. I started selling a lot of cars and I decided that the dealership was too small, so I bought a piece of property across the street, and opened a brand new Oldsmobile Toyota store. This was around 1980 and business really took off!
I started buying other dealerships. I became the first Lexus dealership in New England. I also had Toyota, Oldsmobile, Mazda, Pontiac, Porsche, and Audi – I had seven dealerships in Danvers within 1½ miles of each other on Route 114.
You “retired” around 20 years ago, and then unretired, and recently retired again?
Twenty years ago, my wife got sick and we decided to spend our winters in Florida, leaving our son, David, in charge of the dealerships. Four years later, she was feeling better and I wanted to get back in the car business. My son told me about two dealerships for sale, a Toyota and Hyundai store in Saco, Maine, which we bought.
You’ve been involved in a lot of philanthropy.
I believe if you take from the community, you’ve got to give back to the community. We just made a major donation to Brigham and Women’s Hospital along with many other charities on the North Shore.
The guy upstairs has been very good to us!
What’s the key to making a sale?
You’ve got to love selling, and people, and it’s got to be genuine. I love people. I love to talk to people; I love to kibbitz. When I was at the dealerships I used to go around to the departments talking to the customers. I was the only dealer I ever knew who was very visible. You’ve got to love people.
I believe in three major philosophies in doing business.
1. PMA: Positive Mental Attitude.
2. Fire in the belly: An intense desire to succeed.
3. YCDBSOYA: You Can’t Do Business Sitting On Your “Tush.”
I owe my success to my wife, Judy, who has always been at my side all these years.