ALAMEDA, Calif.—It started almost by accident. Whitmore’s Auto Service and U-Haul Dealership never would have become part of U-Haul were it not for a chance trailer rental in 1965. Now, 50 years later, the second-generation owner looks back on several decades of service to the people of Alameda and surrounding communities.
This “accidental” partnership began in 1965, when Lou Whitmore Sr. acquired an auto repair business that had an existing U-Haul Dealership on the lot.
“The previous dealer wasn’t around very often, so he sold the business,” Lou Whitmore II explained. “When my dad took over, there were still some U-Haul trailers on the lot, and he wanted them out of there.”
Like many things in life, what happened next was unexpected and life-changing.
“One day, a customer came in wanting to rent one of the trailers,” Lou II reminisced. “My dad hooked up the trailer and the man put some cash in my dad’s pocket—probably $10 or so—and said, ‘There’s your profit for the day.’ It had been a pretty dry day until that point, and Dad said, ‘This is good.’”
Good turned out to be quite the understatement, as it sparked the beginning of a partnership that lasted 50 years.
Lou Whitmore II was 15 when his dad opened the business. The younger Whitmore often worked with his dad, helping out wherever he could. A few years later, after Lou II completed high school and a few years of automotive training, he began working there full time. When Lou Whitmore Sr. retired in 1980, he sold the business to his son. (Lou Sr. passed away about 15 years ago.)
Lou II continued to forge a sterling reputation among the people of Alameda, but he had a lot of help from the rest of his family, including his wife, Diana, and their four daughters: Patty, Kimberly, Andrea and Victoria.
Being a multiple-generation operation isn’t unique among U-Haul Dealerships, but the Whitmore story does have an intriguing twist involving their longtime employee, Steve Estigoy, who started working for the Whitmores around 1980.
“Kimberly and Victoria worked here a lot over the years,” Lou II explained. “That’s how Kimberly and Steve met, and they’ve been married about 15 years now.”
For the Whitmores, being part of the family isn’t limited to those with the same last name or those who married a Whitmore. Just ask their longtime area field manager (AFM), Dave Gomez.
“I call them mom and dad,” Gomez pointed out. “They call me their son, and their kids refer to me as their brother. If I ever need advice, I know I can go to them, just like any son would go to his parents.
“That really means a lot to me,” Gomez continued. “They invite me to birthday parties and other family events. My kids know them really well, and the Whitmores help when my kids have fundraisers for their schools or sports leagues. It’s truly a family atmosphere. Whenever I see them, we don’t give a handshake like I do with my other dealers; the Whitmores and I give hugs.”
All good things must end
Because all good things must come to an end, Lou and Diana Whitmore recently retired as U-Haul Dealers, though it wasn’t entirely their choice to hang ’em up.
“We were leasing some property across the street where we parked the U-Haul equipment, but the city now owns it and they decided to build something else on it,” Lou II noted. “If we still had that piece of property available to us, the dealership would probably still be open.”
“They’re all about helping people,” Gomez observed. “If someone stops by in dire need of a car repair but can’t afford it, the Whitmores will work out ways to get it fixed and worry about the payment whenever the person can pay. They do things like that because it’s the right thing to do.”
Wish the Whitmore Family a happy retirement and share your well wishes for their years of service in the comments!