Nowadays, Memphians in search of a new or used car have their choice of about a billion vehicles for sale on Covington Pike, or they can visit other fine dealerships on Stage Road, Poplar, Mt. Moriah, Mendenhall, and other locations throughout the county. But in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, Union Avenue was Automobile Row, and one of the nicest establishments along that row was Douthit-Sanchez Pontiac.
Troy Douthit and Belmont Sanchez must have been terrific businessmen. Just a few months after they opened their automobile dealership at 1011 Union, America was thrust into World War II. Not many people seem aware of this, but you simply could not purchase a brand-new car from 1942 through 1945 in this country, as every aspect of Detroit car production was diverted to produce tanks, bombers, and other equipment needed for the war effort.
In the meantime, Douthit-Sanchez managed to survive by selling used vehicles, and by 1956, when this photo was taken of their elaborate showroom, not only were they bragging in their ads that they were “Memphis’ Oldest Pontiac Dealer,” but — according to the huge signs painted in the window — they were even able to give away a FREE car to customers who won the “Lucky Key” contest.
Douthit-Sanchez joined almost a dozen other auto dealerships along that stretch of Union between Third and Pauline. Customers could take their pick from Chalmers Buick, Corbitt Lincoln-Mercury, John T. Fisher Chrysler and Plymouth, Hoehn Chevrolet, Reeves Oldsmobile, Wellford Dodge, and Oakley Ford, among others. In the late 1960s, though, several dealerships decided to open spacious new branches out in the suburbs, which back then meant Summer Avenue and Highway 51 South in Whitehaven, and that eventually started the exodus away from downtown.
By the 1970s, most of the car lots in Memphis had relocated again, lining Mt. Moriah, Mendenhall, and Covington Pike, and one by one the smaller dealerships along Union closed. Douthit-Sanchez, which had changed owners and become Douthit-Carroll and then Sid Carroll Pontiac in the late 1960s, sold its last cars in 1977. The building shown here, near the corner of Union and Pauline, was torn down; the site is now an Exxon Tiger Market. It’s still possible to pick out a nice vehicle on Union, but today your choices are pretty much limited to a few used-car lots, an Enterprise car-rental agency, and a U-Haul.
Memories still remain of the old places along Automobile Row, however, and postcards and photos of the dealerships often turn up on eBay, along with other things. A few weeks ago, a fellow in Jackson, Tennessee, was selling an old Douthit-Carroll dealer tag (below). Nowadays, car dealers usually advertise themselves with the cheap decal, but in the 1960s, they bolted their names on your cars in chrome and steel.
OLD PHOTO COURTESY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS LIBRARIES