Selling used cars in Mike Murray's blood

Mike Murray, who was installed as the latest president of the Downey Chamber of Commerce on June 18, has been in the used car business long enough to know good times from bad in the industry.Born in 1950, Mike was just 5 years old when in 1955, his ex-Navy man dad formed Downey Used Cars, setting up shop at Firestone Boulevard and Rives Avenue at first, then moving five years later to its present location on Lakewood Boulevard. At about age 8, straight from school, Mike would do his homework at his dad's office, then help the mechanic recondition the cars on the lot. Gradually, of course, he would gain a sense of the workings of both car and business, and thus absorb the used car culture. All this while enjoying youthful joys and pleasures such as darting to the nearby McDonald's or some such favorite place with his buddies. Raised in Downey since he was eight months old, Mike attended Maude Price Elementary, North Junior High (now Griffiths Middle), and Warren High School. He would later take business at Cerritos College. He was 15 when he obtained his sales license. He and everybody else had realized by then that he was better at selling, rather than fixing (including painting, etc.), cars: he was told he had the 'gift of gab.' He and his dad, who worked till he was around 70, were business partners. His dad at one time played pro football for the Los Angeles Bulldogs with the likes of Kenny Washington and Woody Strode (the actor). His dad passed away only five years ago. Mike says his grandpa, who landed in Illinois in 1890 from Ireland and proceeded to Ventura after having obtained a 25-acre land grant, used to tell him, "Work hard and be honest"-advice he says he has always heeded. He has also traced his lineage to the original founders of Nantucket. It seems that his great-great grandpa (on his mother's side), William Swain Riddell, the Folgers (Folger's Coffee) and the Macys (Macy's)-all cousins-together bought the island. Intermarriage among cousins was common then. Even Benjamin Franklin has been found to be a blood relation. Business today is very difficult, Mike says, "very similar to conditions in 1985." Despite this, he has managed to hold his own because demand for used cars at present outstrips supply. He feels no need to advertise: "I have hundreds and hundreds of names of clients who call me saying they need a car. People who call me today are people whose fathers and grandfathers we've sold to years ago. Seventy-five percent of my clientele are repeat customers," he says. At one time, he says, the business had five people working the lot. Today, he is assisted by Miguel, who tends the lot in his absence and can perform "minor service," while selling a car or two. Miguel has been with him for about 35 years. When there was talk 10 years ago of new regulations on used car dealerships, the while issue was vague to him, he says, and was enabled to seek the counsel of, among other people, then councilman Meredith Perkins, who gave him information he needed. The Downey Chamber of Commerce was another source of relevant information, he says. Gratified with the Chamber's assistance, he became a member immediately as he at the same time started to get more involved in City Hall affairs. Within a few years, he was serving on the Planning Commission. Today he also serves as president of the Downey Sister Cities Association and the Downey Tennis Club. He says he plays 6-7 sets of doubles five times a week, and 10 years ago won the Long Beach Olympics senior doubles with partner Bernie Erickson. He also plays golf occasionally. He also serves on the Veterans Memorial Commission. His other interests include reading history and autobiographies ("a book a week"), scooting around in a Harley, and showing off his red '57 T'Bird from time to time. He says he sold his yacht six years ago "as I was not using it." He has recently bought a house in Palm Springs, where he intends to indulge his passion for tennis and even golf on weekends. But his great joy he says comes from playing with his four grandkids. Older daughter Michelle is a Downey High School product, Cal State Dominguez grad, and community services director for the city of Irvine (husband Jesus Cahzouz is a LAPD detective), while Warren High product Allison graduated summa cum laude from Cal State Fullerton and is a schoolteacher (husband Brian Callaway has a flourishing L.A.-based glamour photography business). Wife Melissa works for International 'O' Ring which is headquartered in France and has a branch in Mexico. It goes without saying that Mike's travel pattern hews closely to that of his wife's. As Chamber president, Mike says he wants to emphasize its welcoming, business-friendly, helpful role, to "help make people doing business in Downey feel better [about things] here." In addition, he says it's the Chamber's job to encourage business to come to Downey.

********** Published: June 24, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 10