Buying a car in Normal is anything but normal

I recently came across an article about a dealership in Normal, Ill., turning 25 years old and was intrigued.

I lived in that area from 1994 to 1998. In fact, I bought a new car there — not from the silver-anniversary dealership in the news story — but reading the article brought back vivid memories of the experience.

Those memories should serve as a reminder for anyone selling cars that a buyer's experience is something they'll always remember. And when dealers want to keep buyers or receive a referral for new customers, every little detail is something customers may never forget.

I purchased a blue 1995 Nissan Altima with a manual transmission despite only having clumsily driven a stick shift a couple of times. But I couldn't afford an automatic.

The salesman offered me his dark green Chevrolet Camaro to drive for a few days until the Altima I ordered arrived. He handed me the keys to his Camaro saying: "You can drive a 6-speed, right?"

"Sure!" I said with way too much confidence (I mean, how hard could it be?).

I managed to fumble out of the parking lot by riding the clutch in first gear as the salesman and general manager waved cheerfully. I kept the car in first gear the entire 10-minute drive home. A friend quickly schooled me how to properly drive a stick shift.

Above all my other memories during the four years I lived in Bloomington-Normal, that is one of my most vivid, and happiest.

I still recall the layout of the showroom and the sun shining through the window to my left as I sat facing the salesman. I can hear the hoarse laugh of the dark-haired salesman. I can see his tall, lanky general manager with sandy brown hair amble towards me and extend his left hand with the keys to his Camaro dangling from it.

And I remember that thrilling moment of returning the Camaro and driving my new Altima home, this time in fourth gear and loving it.

I'm sure it was just another day at work for the salesman and general manager.But to a customer, it's a lifelong memory.

So make it a good one.

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