Ellis Brooks of San Francisco, CA

Ellis Brooks
Ellis Brooks sold new Chevrolets up until December of 2008.
They no longer sell new cars, but will continue with used car sales.

Ellis Brooks started in the late '40's/early '50's. After the Hudson franchise, Chevrolets and later other General Motors cars were sold.

Ellis Brooks Sr. was among the first car dealers advertising on local TV. Many of the ads featured Brooks himself, sitting alongside five big cans of coffee. His widow, Marie Brooks, remembers Ellis looking right into the camera. "He'd say, "I'll give you 5 pounds of Hills Brothers Coffee absolutely free if you can make a better deal than at Ellis Brooks!" One of the advertising jingles for the company, belted out by Rose Marie Brunell was:

"See Ellis Brooks today
For your Chevrolet
Corner of Bush and Van Ness!
He's got a deal for you
Oh what a deal for you
A Chevy deal that you will like the best!"
Ellis Brooks Chevrolet

Ellis Brooks quit the new-car business in mid-December of 2008. Now the business will sell only used cars. It's a complicated story, involving an underfunded pension fund, an argument with the union, a difficult business climate in San Francisco, the decline of the old Van Ness Auto Row, and on and on. But all business retrenchments and cutbacks are complicated.

The bottom line, says Marie Brooks, is that people on the West Coast, and particularly in the Bay Area, prefer foreign cars. When Ellis Brooks stops selling new cars, there will be only one other dealer selling American cars in San Francisco: San Francisco Ford Lincoln Mercury on Van Ness Avenue. "Once there were 34 car dealers in San Francisco," she said. Forty, 50 years ago, Ellis Brooks sold 3,000 cars a year; more recently it was 300 to 500. This year, sales were down 60 percent. Marie said the company couldn't go on the way it was going. "It's a big change," she said. "Many longtime employees will be out of a job. It hurts. But it had to happen."

Marie got in the car business in 1946 working in the office of a Hudson dealer. "You know those Hudsons, particularly the '48 model, were 10 years ahead of their time," she said. Hudson cars, even the speedy Hudson Hornet, are barely remembered, but who would have thought San Francisco would be without a Chevrolet dealership?

Ellis Brooks Hudson

Chevys were the kind of car the guy across the street drove. Your Uncle Jack had a Chevy and so did your high school girlfriend's father. Chronicle company cars were always Chevys, big, white, serviceable cars, a bit boxy looking. The older ones were beat up looking, but reliable, like the photographers and reporters who drove them.

Ellis Brooks has been a family business. Marie took over in 1963 when Ellis Sr. became ill and died. Marie Brooks is the president and John Brooks, the founder's grandson, is general manager.

Ellis Brooks Hudson
Salesman's Business Card, Years of Service Unknown.

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