Paul Bailey's has history of quality service

GM says tradition is built into family-owned operation
Sat, 06/27/2015 - 8:15am

Maureen Bailey, daughter of Ernest, who established the roots of today’s Paul Bailey’s Chrysler Jeep Dodge RAM dealership at 425 Ten Rod Road, North Kingstown, recalls her father accepting chickens —and one time a cow—as payment at this Lafayette Village location.

Ernest Bailey opened a small automobile repair and blacksmith shop on Ten Rod Road in 1928, and according to dealership history — some of it was captured in photographs on the walls of the showroom — the business grew and expanded through the following eight-plus decades.

“In 1932, Ernest became a new car dealer and soon expanded. In 1937 Ernest built the present day dealership,” a pamphlet states, telling how son and namesake Paul joined in 1957, and daughter Maureen in 1969. Paul died in 2001.

Now president, Maureen has lived or worked on this spot — long ago called the Franklin Farm and later, the Clark Huling place — since childhood, and she recalls that cow her father took as payment.

Though the practice of cows as compensation is long gone, the idea of consistency and tradition remains, says General Manager Larry Cronin, telling of customers returning for decades to purchase their cars there, and others counting up dozens of Bailey cars in their extended families.  

One customer in her 70s recently told Cronin, “I’ve never bought a car anywhere else.”

After 46 years of working at Paul Bailey’s, the customers have come to know him, too, and he thinks it is one of the things people like about this dealership.

“People come back and ask for a certain service manager, parts manager, office manager,” said Cronin. All of them worked there for many years.

“If a place is a good place to work it’s usually a good place to do business,” Cronin said.

This full-service operation, located about 20 minutes north of the ferry out of Galilee, often works out scheduling of car services around the schedules of Block Islanders, said Bailey and Cronin.

With about 1,000 year-round island residents, the number of vehicles needing attention could equal that number, if not double it. Some have purchased their vehicles at Paul Bailey’s, or turn to the "South County" business for regular service.

“If people encounter a problem over there, they call us and get the car over to us,” Bailey explained.

“Sometime we might have to have it towed, but one way or another, we’ll get it fixed and get it back to them,” Cronin said.

“We can do whatever they want,” added Bailey, pointing out the use of a loaner while their vehicle is being serviced so they can go to off-island appointments and shopping.

“We try to accommodate them as best we can.”

For those shopping for a new car, Cronin said everything can be done on the premises, “soup to nuts,” with financing available, “so people don’t have to go out and get a loan. They can do it all here. We think we’re very, very competitive,” he said.

Cronin said customers have told him they “didn’t expect it to be like this. We’re friendly and non-confrontational. It’s what this place was built on. We have a formula that works. People come in from all over Rhode Island.”

Again, the idea of tradition has been built into this family-owned operation. 

In a 1949 book, “Lafayette, R.I.” By George Gardiner, the author noted, “The largest business property in East Lafayette today is the Ernest Bailey garage and the farm and buildings associated with it.”

Wood cut from the property was sold in those early years for fuel during times of shortages, the book says, but these days, the word fuel at this location is associated more with questions about models that offer good fuel economy.

Some 40 employees come and go at this 38-acre location, which started out as a Nash dealership in the heart of Lafayette village where workers from the old Rodman Manufacturing Company once walked to work. Walking to work isn’t as common as it once was, so having a reliable car has become a way of life for Rhode Islanders. At Bailey’s Chrysler Dodge Jeep RAM, new and pre-owned models are available, and Cronin and Bailey said they take any type of vehicle as a trade-in.

“Anything,” he said, telling of motorcycles and boats that have come in for trade.

That was when Maureen recalled her father taking chickens and that famous cow as payment.

“We don’t take chickens now,” said Cronin, but to support the idea of tradition at this dealership, he pulled a 1960 sales agreement from his desk drawer. It was for a 1960 DeSoto with the original price being $4,349, but with a trade-in, $2,600.

Cronin said sports utility vehicles “are probably the most popular vehicles today,” for their fuel efficiency. But every car buyer is different, with some people searching for mini-vans, some looking for pick-up trucks while others are in love with Jeeps.

“The Jeep brand has been the hottest,” Cronin said, and their website notes a good selection of “Jeep, Chrysler, Dodge and RAM cars or trucks,” including the new Grand Cherokee, 200, Avenger, RAM 1500 and Wrangler.”

In a 1982 newspaper clipping on Cronin’s office wall, Paul Bailey was quoted as calling his staff “his boys,” but Maureen counts eight women, including herself, on staff, in sales and service, adding that she has been around cars her whole life and probably sold her first car at age 16.

This former farm now holds upwards of 225 cars, a service and collision center, and a showroom. There is a waiting room with a television, and though there are comfortable chairs, those awaiting service will have to bring their own donuts. “We don’t bake,” said Cronin.

Hours listed on the website are Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.

Service hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday, 8 a.m. to noon. Call (401) 295-8855 or (888) 684-3261 for sales and (888) 684-3261 for parts or check