Gambino had ambitious goals and borrowed heavily to achieve them. He wanted Gambino Ford in Lockport, N.Y., to be the Ford dealership of choice in the northern Buffalo area.
He had 30 acres and plans for a palatial 38,000-square-foot store. The plan would more than satisfy Ford's Blue Oval requirements. Gambino got halfway to his dream -- then watched it fall apart.
"I put up a $2.7 million facility," Gambino says of his lavish service center with heated floors and 30 bays that he built in 2000. "I drank the Kool-Aid, and I had a preferred location. But in the end, I lost."
Without the heavy debt load for the service center, Gambino figures he still would be making a go of it.
Gambino, an expressive Italian-American with a booming voice, was on board with Ford's market consolidation from the beginning. He never expected to raise his own hand for a buyout. He had planned to build a new showroom to match the service center.
But during the decade, business fell in half. Ford's market share spiraled, Buffalo's economy faltered, and last year's industry sales collapse delivered the final blow. Losing money and running out of cash, Gambino Ford closed in December 2008.
Gambino had hurried to accept a buyout offer from Ford Motor Co. that he feared might expire at year end. One nearby dealer also pitched in buyout money.
On the same piece of property almost four decades earlier, at what then was called Lockport Motors, Gambino started his automotive career as a 19-year-old washing cars. His dad was general manager. In 1975, Gambino and his dad bought out the former dealer, using a $10,000 down payment that Pat and his young wife had scraped together.
In 1983, Gambino bought out his dad, who went on to buy and sell Ford and Toyota stores in Niagara Falls.
As business worsened late this decade, an attempt to dual with Mazda fell through. The dealership got behind on taxes, and the bank started foreclosure proceedings. Sales were decimated by market swings in the summer of 2008 and the credit crisis that followed.