Trash Pandas Inaugural Season Pushed to 2021

MADISON Fans who have waited for professional baseball to return to North Alabama will now have to wait a little longer.

Trash Pandas President & CEO Ralph Nelson: I firmly believe the Trash Pandas will help heal North Alabama when we come out on the other side of this pandemic an even stronger community. (Photo/Rocket City Trash Pandas)

Minor League Baseball announced the cancellation of the 2020 season, which would have been the historic opening campaign for the Trash Pandas. Instead, 2021 will serve as the inaugural mission for the Double-A affiliate of the Angels.

“Obviously, this is an incredibly disappointing day for our fans, staff, and partners,” said team President and CEO Ralph Nelson. “But the health and safety of our families and community is paramount above all else. Baseball has always been part of the healing when our country has come back from tragic times, and I firmly believe the Trash Pandas will help heal North Alabama when we come out on the other side of this pandemic an even stronger community.”

The Trash Pandas will announce policies and procedures as they relate to tickets purchased for 2020 baseball games. Fans will not lose any value for the tickets they have already bought, the team said.

In fact, the team is switching from a baseball operation to an event/retail business to make up for the lost revenue from the baseball season being canceled.

The team has been setting merchandise sales records for Minor League Baseball and is approaching nearly $3 million in sales through the Emporium at Bridge Street Town Centre, the Junkyard at Toyota Field and its online store

The Trash Pandas were the first MiLB team to process international online orders and have had merchandise shipped to Canada, England, Australia and the United Arab Emirates.

“Obviously, merchandise has been our home run hitter since we unveiled our team name and logo in 2018,” Nelson said. “The opportunity … to welcome international orders will only help expand the Trash Panda name across the globe.”

The Trash Pandas have held “Block Parties” on Friday nights at Toyota Field, featuring bands, trivia contests on the videoboard and fireworks. They recently held a screening of the movie “Angels in the Outfield” and fans sat on the outfield grass to watch.

This weekend, they are hosting an Independence Eve Block Party and a massive Fourth of July celebration, featuring live entertainment, activities for kids of all ages and, of course, fireworks. For Friday’s event, admission is $10, kids 2 and under are free. The Fourth of July admission is $10 per person, kids 2 and under are free and parking is $6 per vehicle.

On July 10, the team will show “Field of Dreams” and fans can “have a catch” before the film. The Pepsi Gates will open at 5:30 p.m. and showtime is set for 7. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for kids ages 12 & under, kids 2 and under are admitted free. There is no charge for parking. Trash Pandas Nation full-season ticket holders will have the opportunity to gain early entry through the Trustmark VIP Lobby beginning at 5 p.m. 

The Trash Pandas have also hosted week-long kids’ camps, instructional baseball/softball camps and baseball travel-ball tournaments.

“We had events 26 of the 30 days in June,” Nelson said. “July will have even more.”

For information, visit

“These are unprecedented times for our country and our organization as this is the first time in our history that we’ve had a summer without Minor League Baseball played,” said MiLB President and CEO Pat O’Conner. “This announcement removes the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season and allows our teams to begin planning for an exciting 2021 season of affordable family entertainment.”

County Commission Chairman: ‘We Don’t Have This Pandemic Under Control’

Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong sounded a resounding alarm during Monday’s COVID-19 press briefing.

“We don’t have this pandemic under control, Strong said. “Not in Madison County, not throughout the state of Alabama and not in the United States.”

The comments came on the same day that Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, chief of the World Health Organization, was quoted at a press briefing in Geneva saying the pandemic is speeding up globally and the “worst is yet to come.’’

“We all want this to be over,’’ he said. “We all want to get on with our lives. But the hard reality is that it’s not even close to being over.’’

Also Monday, Arizona joined Texas and Florida whose governors closed down such gathering spots as bars, gyms, and beaches to combat spikes of the novel coronavirus in those states.

Meanwhile, Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers reported a spike in Madison County and the region.

“As of (Monday), we have 115 COVID positive inpatients in our system,” Spillers said. “When I reported on June 1, we had 28. So that’s a substantial increase in the month of June.”

Spillers said local and area hospitals have enough beds to deal with virus surges that require hospitalization. What he fears right now is the exposure of health care workers.

Strong noted that 14 HEMSI workers were out Monday because they’ve been exposed to a COVID-19 patient or a family member has tested positive.

Spillers and Strong both continued to stress wearing face coverings as a way to combat the spread of the virus.

“I don’t know when wearing face coverings became a political statement, and I’m sorry that it has,” Spillers said. “It hasn’t got anything to do with that. It’s just an effective way to keep people from transmitting the disease.’’

Strong said he’s heard from people who don’t want to wear a mask.

“There are people that believe they want to preserve their freedoms,’’ Strong said. “If they don’t want to wear one, they don’t believe they should be made to wear one. There are different dynamics today than we had a week ago, nevertheless 14 weeks ago.’’

The rising positive cases of COVID-19 locally and statewide, Strong said, should sway doubters into wearing face coverings. Face coverings are required within county offices.

“You look at the mistakes of other states, we don’t want to make the same mistakes they’ve made,’’ he said. “The mask has proven to be beneficial to the people of Madison County.

“In the study, or what we’ve done at the Madison County Commission for about four or five days, people didn’t like it, but then you look back several weeks later and we’ve had no cases that we’ve tied to the Madison County Courthouse.’’

The 115 inpatients Spillers alluded to include a 16-year old who is one of 11 coronavirus positive patients on a ventilator and among 16 total in ICUs. There are 44 inpatients in Madison County, including 38 at Huntsville main, six in Madison, and two in Crestwood Medical Center.

Other coronavirus numbers:

  • Decatur Morgan Hospital has 20 inpatients with coronavirus and Marshall County has 30.
  • There are 12 inpatients with coronavirus at Helen Keller Hospital and Athens Limestone Hospital has nine.
  • The average age of hospitalization for the coronavirus is the mid-50s with the majority of those having pre-existing conditions.
  • There are nearly 37,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and over 900 deaths statewide, while in Madison County the numbers are 996 and six.

Huntsville Hospital has the highest number of cases since its first positive patient was admitted. As businesses re-open and sports are coming back to life, Spillers cautioned that not going backward like Arizona, Texas and Florida is to practice safeguards.

“We can’t go back to normal without some protections in place,” he said. “That’s not going to work.”


Madison Community Rocks to Help Those Affected by Pandemic

MADISON — What is so special about a big bag of river rocks?

They can feature an inspirational message, the name of a special person, or an organization on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. These rocks come together to form the Madison River of Hope, a permanent painted rock garden on Bill’s Hill at Dublin Park in Madison. The proceeds go to support people in Madison affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Madison RIver of Hope” features rocks with messages and logos.

The perfect summertime activity for individuals, families, businesses, and organizations and groups have a choice of four types of sponsorship rocks and painting options available through July 11. Donors can paint a name or inspirational message on the stone or a volunteer at the Madison Chamber of Commerce will do it.

“I Wanna Rock” sponsorships start with $10 donations to the Madison River of Hope and include a small People Rock to honor a special person in the community; a $20 donation will go toward a larger Rock Solid stone to support a small business affected by the COVID-19 fight.

With a corporate donation of $500, a company logo can be painted on a large Let’s Rock stone; a $1,000 donation will include a larger stone with special placement in the River of Hope Rock Garden. The company logo and a special message can be painted on the façade as well.

To order the rocks, visit or contact Liz Brinton at 256-348-4969 or

The rocks can be picked up and dropped off Tuesdays at Discovery Middle School on Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the Madison Public Library from 3-6 p.m. They may also be picked up and dropped off weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Dublin Park  and Posh Mommy and Baby Too!.

Contributions to the River of Hope Rock Garden run through July 11.


Health, Civic Officials Plea: Wear Face Coverings, Use Hand Sanitizers, Practice Social Distancing.

Wear face coverings, use hand sanitizers and practice social distancing.

It’s neither a broken record nor a cliche, just the repeated pleas from health and civic officials urging Madison County residents to practice these safety measures to battle the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

That checklist continues to be the theme at the bi-weekly pandemic press conference at the Huntsville City Council chambers. Especially in light of the number of positive cases in the county spiking the last two weeks in the wake of protests and as restaurants, bars and businesses re-open.

And even for those who refuse to wear a mask, following those guidelines might keep at bay an ordinance to require them to wear masks at all public places.

“The last time I reported in our system hospitals across Alabama, we had about 30 inpatients; today we’ve got 70 inpatients in our hospitals across North Alabama,” Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers said. “So we’ve seen a fairly substantial increase in the number of people who have COVID, who need hospital care.”

The number of local and area residents needing inpatient and ventilator care has also increased. Of the 70 patients in Huntsville Hospital facilities, there are 23 in Madison County with 16 in Huntsville and seven in Madison. Of the 23, seven are in intensive care and six are on ventilators.

Statewide, 348,687 people have been tested for the virus. Confirmed positives are at 30,031 and 831 deaths because of the coronavirus have been reported. In the county, there have been 23,865 tests with 711 confirmed cases and six deaths attributed to COVID-19.

The state has a population of nearly 5 million and Madison County has a population nearing 400,000. Less than 20 percent in both instances of the population have been tested.

“For the longest time, I presented to this group that about three percent of all of our tests were running positive,” Spillers said. “That’s now up to around six to eight percent of the tests we run are coming back positive.”

Spillers warned that younger people feeling immune to the deadly aspect of the disease should take caution while the average age of a COVID-19 patient admitted to the hospital is 54.6.

“People tend to think this is much more skewed toward the elderly and, if you look at mortality, it is much more skewed toward the elderly. For me, 54 is not old at all.”

Meanwhile, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said he’s heard from both sides of the mask-wearing debate. He doesn’t see a clear path to making it work but acknowledged a city-wide requirement is not off the table.

“It’s a fine line to walk,’’ he said. “We want to make sure that we have public health, and we want people to do that, the question is, ‘If you did have a mask ordinance, how would you enforce it?’

“If we see numbers start to spike up, then we’re going to consider it much more than we have in the past.”

Battle said that if around 700 new cases develop, a mark ordinance would be given more “consideration.’’

Spillers fully supports wearing masks.

“In areas where you can stay separated, you may not need to wear a mask,” he said. “But in those areas where you come close to people, you’ve got to wear a mask.

“I think that that’s the single most important thing we could do to try to minimize the spread of coronavirus.”


Local COVID-19 Cases Increase; City, County on ‘Watch List’

Huntsville and Madison County enjoyed weeks as the poster child in the state for how to battle the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

While other counties seemed to struggle in dealing with the virus, Madison County maintained low numbers of confirmed cases.

That’s no longer true.

At Friday’s COVID-19 press briefing in the Huntsville City Council chambers, state and local officials produced ominous numbers as well as comments.

“One thing that stands out, as of last Friday (June 12), we had 85 quarantined cases in Madison County,’’ said county Emergency Management Director Jeff Birdwell. “(June 19), we have 243.

“Also a word of warning: We have received word that the city of Huntsville and Madison County is actually on the government’s COVID-19 watch list, which represents any organizations or governments that have more than a 200 percent increase in confirmed cases.

“I think it’s important that the community know that.”

Dr. Karen Landers of the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) said the trend not only in Madison County but statewide is “disturbing.’’

The numbers on ADHP’s dashboard revealed these numbers Sunday: 29,538 confirmed cases statewide with 829 deaths, and 701 confirmed cases and six deaths in Madison County.

“Our numbers statewide have continued to climb,’’ Landers said. “This is an extremely disturbing trend to the Alabama Department of Public Health and to me personally as a health official.’’

About half of the cases in Madison County have been confirmed in the last month.

“With these rising numbers,’’ Landers said, “if we don’t get this under control, it is going to overwhelm our health care system, which has been the worry we have had the whole time.”

Hospitalizations have also risen because of the virus across the state, particularly in the 24-49 age group.

“Early on, this community took a very strong stance providing a lot of messaging and a lot of information, and our numbers were low in this county compared to other parts of the state,” Landers said. “But our numbers in this county have started to climb.

“We know that without any level of social distancing or without any level of personal protective measures that a person with COVID-19 under the most optimal conditions will transmit COVID-19 to 2 1/2 people. But it can actually be higher than that.”

While health officials and local authorities continue to stress safeguards against the virus — wearing face coverings, social distancing, hand sanitizing — a trip to any reopened store reveals not everyone is taking any precautions.

“The hardest thing is enforcement,” Madison Mayor Paul Finley said. “How do you do that?”

Finley, Landers, and others at the bi-weekly COVID-19 briefings continue to persuade residents to take the virus seriously.

“We really have limited options in terms of prevention, and we really have limited options in terms of treatment,’’ Landers said. “However, the options we have in terms of prevention are actually not extremely noxious, if you will, and they’re not extremely difficult to carry out.’’


Crestwood CEO: Masks Help Protect Wearer Against COVID-19; ‘The Life You Save May be Your Own’

Cloth face masks, recommended by the Centers for Disease Control to contain the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, are now considered to be protection for the wearer against contracting the disease.

According to Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson, cloth masks are proving to act as a barrier to the virus. It was previously thought only specialized masks such as N95 would protect the wearer.

“Evidence now is even the cloth masks can protect the wearer from 80 percent of the (airborne) particles,’’ she said during Monday’s COVID-19 update at the Huntsville City Council chambers. “Masks reduce the number of particles that get past that barrier and that means 80 percent can’t reach the nose and mouth, which is the way we catch this.

“Having a smaller viral attack rate means your body has a better chance of winning the battle and having a less severe illness. So wear your mask. The life you save may be your own.’’

Hudson’s comments come on the heels of an increase of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Madison County and statewide. There have been 22 states that have seen daily increases in cases in the past two weeks as the country reopens its economy. At least 12 of those states have reached their highest number of cases since the pandemic started.

As of Monday night, there were 25,892 reported confirmed virus cases with 769 deaths. Madison County has 566 confirmed cases with five deaths. The county has had an increase of 222 positive cases in the past 14 days with a majority in the 24-49 age group. Also, around 50 percent of the cases being confirmed are among blacks.

“Blacks are over-represented in testing positive,’’ Hudson said.

According to WHNT-TV, three Albertville High School football players have tested positive for the virus since students returned for voluntary workouts.

“We’ve had the largest three-day increase since the first case was announced,’’ Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong said Monday. “It’s vital to remain mindful of the need to take personal responsibility for your safety as well as those around us.’’

While Hudson and Strong both stressed the tenants of fighting the virus – wearing masks, hand sanitizing and social distancing – Hudson condemned a recent fad: COVID parties. The theory behind these gatherings is to “get it over with’’ and to develop a herd immunity.

This, she said, was popular in the 1950-60s era when parents exposed their children to chicken pox. COVID-19 is not chicken pox, she warned.

“Very few children had serious effects from chicken pox,’’ she said. “COVID is not chickenpox. COVID is a serious illness.’’

Hudson said one of 10 people affected with COVID-19 require hospitalization, 20 percent of those end up on a ventilator and the mortality rate is 30 percent.

“Get it over with is not a good idea,’’ she said.


KTECH Implements 3D Virtual Tours as New Recruitment Tool

When her Kids To Love foundation was deemed an essential business during the coronavirus shutdowns due to its support for foster children across North Alabama and Southern Tennessee, founder and CEO Lee Marshall used the opportunity to accelerate an innovative 3D Virtual Tour recruitment tool she already had in the works for her KTECH students, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

KTECH offers hands-on, interactive, one-on-one instruction and certification in a variety of technical skill sets in high demand in the advanced manufacturing industry, to foster kids who have aged out of the foster care system and do not have the grades or money to attend college. KTECH also connects its graduates with good paying jobs in the manufacturing arena.

The classes include instruction in mechatronics, robotics, soldering and solid edge, which is a 3D CAD technology that provides solid modeling, assembly modelling and 2D orthographic view functionality for mechanical designers.

“Foster kids are inherently resilient due to their life circumstances,” said Marshall. “They adapt better than most people to unexpected circumstances, so they instinctively turned to online learning during the shelter at home order.

“Innovation has been a tenet of KTECH since its inception, and we are always looking for new ways to attract students, especially foster kids, to the KTECH workforce training initiative.”

She said COVID-19 restrictions affected KTECH’s recruitment efforts, so her team pushed forward and launched their way of encouraging students to consider KTECH training. Rather than going in person to tour the KTECH campus on Castle Drive off U.S. 72 in Madison, students can access the 3D Virtual Tour on the KTECH website at

“It is a new way of seeing what KTECH is about,” said Marshall. “It gives virtual viewers an up-close look at instructors demonstrating how the equipment works and shows the instructors conducting the KTECH training.

“KTECH works with world-class industry partners,” said Marshall. “Our training is second to none, and our students leave KTECH ready to work. The 3D tour is an exciting way to show potential students, as well as industry partners, that we are here to serve them and put them on a successful career track.”


Rime of COVID-19: Virus Hanging Like an Albatross Around Our Necks

While protests worldwide have taken over the headlines, there remains one albatross around America’s and the world’s collective necks.

The COVID-19 pandemic.

And as unrest surrounding many of the protests, including in Huntsville, against police brutality following the death of George Floyd, a black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer this country is facing another big question.

Will the hundreds and even thousands of people in close-in crowds hasten what is feared to be a second round of the virus?

“There’s more opportunity for people to get sick, there’s no doubt about it,’’ Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers said. “Whether or not that creates the spike we’re all looking for I don’t know. I don’t think we know enough about this virus to know if it’s contagious in the middle of the summer when it’s 90 degrees as it is or when it’s 35 degrees and we’re all together.

“I think any social event is an opportunity for people to get sick if somebody in that group is sick if they don’t practice distancing. And I know it’s probably hard to do when you’re in a crowd like that.’’

Spillers predicted there will likely be a spike in two weeks when any protestors contract the virus. He also local hospitals “have a plan if there is a spike.’’

The Alabama Department of Public Health’s website joined many throughout the nation in experiencing trouble updating its statistics last week when a backlog of lab results overwhelmed systems.

But during Friday’s pandemic briefing it was announced the figures posted at the ADPH site were back in order. Those results as of Saturday night showed there have been 359 confirmed cases of the virus with four deaths in Madison County.

Madison County Commission Chair Dale Strong reported that Huntsville Hospital has seven in-patients and Madison Hospital has two with none of those on ventilators.

Earlier, Spillers said, “I look at the numbers and while I’m not unhappy about it, I’d like the numbers to be less. But I’m an optimist and we’re holding our own and I think we’ll be OK.

“But all that could change quickly if we’re not very careful.’’

Centers for Disease Control Director Robert Redfield recommended that anyone who has attended a protest gets tested. But, Spillers said not many asymptomatic people Huntsville has tested have proved to be positive and that no system has “an unlimited supply.’’

Dr. Karen Landers of the ADPH said while anyone experiencing symptoms shouldn’t hesitate to seek testing, prudence should be in order.

“I get asked a lot of times about a large entity where perhaps a person has had a case,’’ she said. “We have to remember not everyone is not going to develop Covid-19 and not everyone has the same level of exposure.

“We’re really talking about people that are either household, intimate partner, or close contacts where there are less than six feet of space for greater than 15 minutes. It’s really all about the time and the exposure to the person.”


Through Faith and Perseverance, Couple Holds Madison’s First Post-Shutdown Ribbon-cutting

MADISON — It was the first grand opening and ribbon-cutting event in Madison since before the COVID-19 related shutdowns in March.

The Say Ahh dental practice holds Madison’s first post-pandemic ribbon-cutting. (Photo/Steve Babin)

Madison Mayor Paul Finley and the Madison Chamber of Commerce were on hand for the opening of Say Ahh! Family and Cosmetic Dentistry on U.S. 72 at Nance Road.

Dr. Joyce Bellamy and her husband, Michael, had business ventures in the works when the shutdowns began.

They had procured the location for her dental practice last summer and began hard-core renovations of the storefront in December that transformed the space into a luxurious, high-tech dental facility with an inhouse lab for making their own crowns.

They were right on schedule for a March grand opening when just days before their scheduled ribbon-cutting, Gov. Kay Ivey announced the first stay at home order due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Michael was slated to become a professor at the Decatur campus of Calhoun Community College but that is on hold while Calhoun works through its plans for holding classes this fall.

He was also launching his Bags to Briefcase Business Consulting Group when the pandemic struck. He had to put some of his motivational speaking engagements on hold as all large gatherings have been cancelled.

“It was a full year of work and we were devastated, but God has His reasons,” said Dr. Bellamy during the delayed ribbon-cutting and open house earlier this week. “Michael has been working on his doctorate and was about to launch his Bags to Briefcases consulting business in unison with our opening Say Ahh!, but God had a different plan for us.”

The couple held an opening prayer and official dedication ceremony for the open house.

“Any event that starts with prayer, especially with everything that is going on today is so welcomed,” said Finley. “To have a new family business opening up and investing in our city is exciting and on behalf of our city council and the Chamber of Commerce, we wish you success, we are glad you are here, and we are appreciative of your investment.”

State-of-the-art equipment allows chairside ceramic restorations. (Photo/Steve Babin)

Dr. Bellamy is a Huntsville native and honors graduate from Oakwood University. She received a Doctor of Dental Surgery from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry where she was appointed clinical adjunct professor in the Department of Caries, Restorative Sciences, and Endodontics. She returned to Huntsville where she has practiced dentistry for the past eight years.

The newly renovated facility with its exposed ceilings and bright open-air feel was designed by Huntsville designer Marc Nixon of Marc Nixon Couture, whom Dr. Bellamy describes as her best friend since age seven.

“I wanted it to be nice and comfortable for our patients with a modern design,” Said Dr. Bellamy. “I gave Marc a basic idea of what I was looking for, which is clean, classy, and elegant, but it came out beyond my wildest dreams.”

One guest at the grand opening commented, “This doesn’t look like any dentist’s office I have ever been to!”

The practice will have two to three dentists in addition to Dr. Bellamy. It has an operatory office and unexpanded function rooms with an in-house lab where Say Ahh! can fabricate ceramic restorations such as inlays, crowns, and veneers chairside.

Say Ahh! will welcome its irst patients June 8 and Dr. Bellamy said they will adhere to all OSHA and CDC specifications. Personal protective equipment is worn at all times in treating patients and they have a safe practice system in place as they focus on the cutting edge of the dentistry industry.

“We have some very exciting services on the horizon, and I hope within the next three to six months, we will be doing some major expansions and bringing some really cool things into the practice,” said Dr. Bellamy. “We offer relaxation sedation and accept all types of insurance with specials for people without dental insurance like free examinations.”

Michael Bellamy will be managing all aspects of the practice including marketing and communications for the near future. The shutdown affected his immediate plans as well.

Michael discussed his motivation behind Bags to Briefcases.

“My mother was a teacher and my father military, but they wanted me to have a Christian education,” he said. “There was a lot of sacrifice involved in keeping me in private Christian school, so when I was young, every year I got two trash bags full of neatly pressed hand-me-down clothes from my church.

“As I grew up, I became a counselor and was involved in the Boys Clubs and pastored in Michigan for many years. Everybody starts somewhere and with every experience, there is an elevation, a transition from where you started. Along the way, people put things in that bag to help you move forward – anything from a nice suit of clothes for an interview to helpful nuggets like maintaining good grades and treating people how you want to be treated. It becomes your portfolio in life and your keys to success.”


Auto Dealerships Driven to Survive During an Economic Storm

There is an old adage that says what doesn’t destroy us, makes us stronger.

Deemed an essential business by Gov. Kay Ivey, car dealerships and their service departments have been steadfast in making the best of a bad situation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most of them have cut hours of operation; they have had to make a variety of adjustments to their daily operations; and they have been steadfast about finding ways to keep their employees working, whether with the help of the Paycheck Protection Program or by sheer will.

All of them reported a drop in car sales in the early days of the shutdown, but their resilience is paying off as most are reporting a rebound.

The Huntsville Business Journal checked in with several car dealerships to find out what it has been like riding out a pandemic in the midst of a massive economic storm, while most of their customers are sheltered at home. Their flexibility, adaptability and entrepreneurial spirits truly stand out!

Landers McLarty Automotive Group

Frank Williams, Executive Manager and Managing Partner of Landers McLarty Automotive Group, said they have an incredible business, so he feels they have an obligation to the community, their customers, and their employees to make whatever adjustments are needed to support them.

“I have focused more on how as a community leader, we can sustain the livelihood of our employees and protect their well-being,” Williams said. “It’s been an adjustment, but it makes you think about priorities which brings you closer to your employees, closer to your family, and it makes you look instead at the positives while forcing you to prioritize. If we do that, we will come out on the right side of this.”

Yes business has been off about 40 percent but he doesn’t look at it from a profit and loss perspective.

“Technology lets us create platforms that provide what the customers want, as opposed to what we want, and that is a plus,” he said. “I don’t focus on the negative. I am using the situation to look for ways to do business better for our consumers, and technology has allowed us to do that.”

If a customer doesn’t want to come into the dealership, they have a social distancing tent set up outside,” Williams said. “If they want to do it all online, they have created another platform for that. If a customer doesn’t want to leave home, they implemented a pick-up and delivery service to support that.

“Everybody is being hurt so looking at it from a profit and loss standpoint isn’t as important as what we do to adjust our cleaning so people feel comfortable coming to work; and making sure our actions as leaders help sustain people and their families.

“The national media focuses on the losses, but we have not made a single cut. We see a lot of positives with our employees stepping up. We want everybody to be happy and I think we have created what will be a new way of doing business.”

Ray Pearman Lincoln  

“We are open every day and we have not had a single layoff,” said Paige Pearman-Sandlin, general manager at Ray Pearman Lincoln. “We saw a dip in car sales to about half what we normally see, but people are still out looking; our service department has remained steady; and we have seen an uptick in the number of people setting appointments to see or test drive a vehicle, as opposed to just dropping by.”

Ray Pearman Lincoln practices safe pickup and delivery. (Photo/Paige Pearman Sandlin)

She said the changes the dealership has made operationally have not been substantially disruptive.

“Some people are wearing masks, but not everybody; and our employees are ready to put one on if the customer is wearing one or inquires about I,” she said. “We are not shaking hands and we have propped open all the doors, so no one has to turn a doorknob. We are very cautious about common touchpoints and we have a company who comes out and spray disinfects the building while our employees are constantly cleaning and sanitizing their work areas.”

She said they can set up virtual test drives but if a customer wants to physically drive the car, they can do so alone. If they request a sales rep, everyone wears masks and gloves.

They also have a designated pick-up and delivery driver who wears disposable gloves, and they wrap the steering wheel. They put the keys in a velvet bag and leave them for the owner so there is no direct contact.

“We were actually ready for the shutdown in terms of being able to process a lot of the car buying steps online since we have been doing that for a while, but I think this has helped us get better at it,” said Sandlin.

Lexus of Huntsville

“Lexus of Huntsville has not only remained open through the entire shutdown, but we have maintained our full hours in both car sales and in our service department,” said Dennis Davis, managing director of the dealership. “Our service department waiting room is open and we are in full compliance with social distancing requirements as set by CDC guidelines.”

Davis said they originally furloughed only two employees, but they called both back when businesses across the board reopened May 19.

“Compared to the weeks or months before COVID hit in mid-March, car sales were off somewhat, but the good news is because Lexus was quick to cut interest rates to 0 percent for the first time in recent history on some models, with others offering six months of no payments, it is the an excellent time to buy that new or certified pre-owned vehicle,” said Davis.

He also said if people are hesitant about taking test drives, he guarantees all cars are disinfected before and after each test drive, and they are using steering wheel covers to prevent any spread of the virus or other germs.

“Our main focus throughout this situation has been to keep customers and employees as safe as possible by following the guidelines set by the CDC.”

Bill Penney Automotive Group

“Prior to March 16, Bill Penney Toyota was having record, record month – such a great month it was unbelievable,” said Hunter Johnson, general manager at Bill Penney Toyota. “On March 16, we started hearing rumblings something is about to happen and when the NBA shut down, it hit us hard. Car sales dropped 30 to 40 percent.”

Unwilling to let dread settle in on their employees and thinking the safest thing was not to have as many people in every department, Johnson and owner Zach Penney pulled the leadership team together and produced a video for all 250 employees. They took the store to half-staff with no one laid off, staggering everyone three days on and four days off.

“The first 2 weeks of April, business went down almost 70 percent, but we manufactured jobs for our employees doing everything from cleaning and sanitizing to doing work around the store we had been putting off like painting and home improvements.

“Since reopening May 4, we brought everyone back on … we have done really well and getting close to normalcy,” he said. “Our used car department in April had the best April in 56 years, and where the ratio of new to used cars is usually 7 to 1, it is now 1 to 1.”

They have also been there to help the public and to respond to customer calls. Throughout the crisis, the dealership has been going to customer homes to pick up the cars, even if all they needed was an oil change, and delivered it back to them following CDC guidelines for social distancing, wearing gloves and covering the steering wheel. This popular valet service will become part of regular business going forward,

The dealership uses a Quickpage system consisting of a video and a taped virtual test drive. If customers still want to test drive it themselves, the staff wipes it down, adds covers to the steering wheel and delivers it to the customer for 24 hours.

“We are also doing ‘payment distancing’. Toyota is offering zero percent financing with no payment for six months and people are taking advantage of it,” said Johnson. “We have always sold cars online, but we are taking it a step forward and emailing paperwork with e-contracting, which will cut hours off the car buying process.”

Smith Infinity

Justin Smith, executive manager for Smith Infinity, said April was nonexistent in terms of new car sales but used cars and the parts and service department have kept the wheels rolling through the entire shutdown. Ironically, his father’s dealership, Jimmy Smith Buick GMC in Athens, was selling so many cars they were close to running out of inventory.

“The imports were slower pushing out special financing than the domestics and I think that has been the difference, but I admit we were down a lot more than I expected going into this,” he said. “Our parts and service department has remained steady at around 75 percent and while they have carried us through April, we have sold more cars between the first and 15th of May than we did the whole month of April, and we are beginning to start seeing some traffic again.”

He said adjusting to sales in the time of COVID has been somewhat strange. The instinct is to see someone on the lot looking and to approach them with a handshake, but his sales staff is learning to adjust to how to approach people. He said many people, especially those wearing masks do not want to come inside and they are all social distancing, so it has been a challenge.

“It is sometimes hard to do business that way, but I think once people hear from the government that they have this thing under control that will change,” he said. “I have to say though that traffic has been twice as heavy the first two weeks of May than it was the entire month of April.”

On a lighter note, Smith said he feels like he is back in college with all the daily webinars.

“I sit in on webinars sometimes it seems all day,” he laughs. “The NADA (National Automobile Dealers Association), the ADAA (Automobile Dealers Association of Alabama), Infinity keeping us up-to-date on their rollouts, and even a webinar from an accounting firm teaching us the PPP.

Century Automotive Group

Century Automotive has remained open throughout the pandemic but owners George and Tracy Jones immediately put a plan in place to protect their customers and employees.

“Our main company objectives during this time was keeping everyone safe and allowing our employees to be able to work and support their families,” said George Jones. “Several of our employees’ main responsibility is sanitizing the facilities hourly; and everyone is enforcing social distancing in their day-to-day business dealings and meetings.

He said several employees chose not to work, and they supported their request for time off, and they have also adjusted hours and implemented split crews for most of their departments.

“We adjusted our test drive options based on customer preference and take vehicles to our customers house and allowed them to drive without a sales consultant in many cases,” Jones said. “We also offered pick-up and delivery for our service customers who weren’t comfortable coming into the dealership.”

He said their sales volume was only down 10 percent in April, but for the most part, business was back to normal in May.

“We are fully staffed and back to our normal business hours, however we realize we must continue to sanitize and continue social distancing,” he said.

“I’m grateful to our customers who have supported us during this time. We are a small, locally owned family business celebrating our 50th year. I’m grateful for our employees who have maintained positive attitudes throughout this crisis, and we will continue to take great care of our company and customers.”

Jerry Damson Automotive Group

Ben Boles, director of digital media for the Jerry Damson Automotive Group, said that from the day Ivey put the stay at home order in place but deemed automotive dealerships and their service departments essential, they developed a governing philosophy surrounding how to keep their employees and customers safe.

“We adopted procedures and protocols to make sure we were compliant not just with state guidelines, but really, with Damson family guidelines,” Boles said. “The family took it seriously, took it to heart, and understood their role in society. If we are judged an essential business, then it is essential our business be leader in the community.

He said they were committed to accommodating whatever their customers needed and will do whatever it takes to make it work for them.

“Our waiting room is open and we have a spacious new building, so we spread out the furniture to make it safe and comfortable. If you prefer, we pick up your vehicle and deliver it back to you. That is fine too,” he said. “We were very quick to adopt high sanitation standards that include gloves, coverings, contactless servicing of your car, and we amended the way we did test drives. We practice social distancing and wear masks when necessary.”

He credits the Damson clean up shop as the unsung heroes of the coronavirus shutdown because they get every car, including used cars, sanitized and they have created a new definition of a frontline-ready used car.

“We have been able to stay open all the days we are usually open and that keeps our employees working, but we did scale back our hours a little because there has been less foot traffic,” Boles said. “We’ve had a lot of change but thankfully as the economy has started reopening, things are looking up.

“People are coming out and looking and they are serious too, definitely here to buy a car!”