Earl Stewart Toyota, which rests a mere 1,000 yards from the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway in Lake Park, offered its showroom to dealership employees seeking shelter from the storm.
As Dorian bore down on the Bahamas, Jason Stewart, co-general manager at Earl Stewart Toyota, told employees at an impromptu Friday sales meeting that anyone concerned about gathering supplies, or who still needed to board up their homes, would be free to do so.
"For real, if you guys are worried about shelter, you can come here and sleep. I'm not just saying that," Stewart said. "Bring your sleeping bags and pillows."
Though perched perilously close to the coast, most of the recently renovated Toyota store sits six feet above sea level. Only the used-car department lacks elevation, and as a consequence has flooded in previous storms.
"No one's going to lose their life, we are all going to be fine, and I think we should all stay in touch with each other," Stewart said.
Earl Stewart, the store's owner and Jason's father, on Monday said the dealership would remain open.
"We're not under a hurricane warning, only a hurricane watch," he wrote in the email to staff. "This means that our dealership will be open today, but in deference to our employees I want to be as flexible as possible. I would like each department to be represented by at least one person, or as many as needed to make it functional. No one is required to come in if they feel they are needed at their homes or with our with their families.
"Thanks very much to all of you who came in yesterday and attended to the needs of our CUSTOMERS, in spite of the concerns that you had for your homes and families. You are the best management staff team on the Planet!"
On Saturday, he told listeners during his radio show "Earl on Cars" that he avoids the news cycle leading up to and during hurricanes.
"I try to look at the updates every five hours. But if you watch the news all day long, you get panicky," Stewart said.
Later that day Stewart's customers gathered around a wall-mounted flatscreen in the service waiting room, eyes locked on the weather report.
Employees at Earl Stewart shifted as much of the store's 600-vehicle inventory as possible into the three-story structure built in to the dealership. Customer cars ranked first in the pecking order for the coveted real estate, followed by the most expensive trucks and SUVs. Smaller, less expensive units were moved out onto the parking lot.
Among the few to enter the store's sales floor were Christie and Michael Gidos, who came into Earl Stewart to fill out paperwork to lease a 2019 Toyota Tacoma. A Facebook ad drew them into the dealership.
"I'm not buying anything until after the storm," Michael Gidos said. "I'm pretty caught up at the house right now, so now I'm just waiting to see if it turns. I'm down to two windows to put shutters on — I can do that in 45 minutes."