Iconic car dealer Bud Smail dies

August 8, 2018
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Photo of Bud Smail of Smail Auto in Greensburg. Part of Enterprise story on Internet business and the car industry.

Iconic Greensburg-area car dealer Clarence “Bud” Smail Jr. died Wednesday.

Born in Buffalo, N.Y., Smail, 81, was CEO of Smail Auto Group in Hempfield.

“We competed against each other, but Bud was always a gentleman. Everything was upfront with Bud,” said Bill Mohler of Sendell Motors Inc., whose grandfather started in the automotive business in the 1920s.

Mohler joked that he and Smail, along with fellow dealers Paul Schimizzi of Hillview Motors and the late Bob Mentzer, owner of the former Greensburg Ford, would get together for a lunch around Christmas and tell stories -- some of which might have been true.

Smail had been in the industry since 1959, after graduating from the University of Maryland. He started working for the Bud Smail Lincoln-Ford dealership that his uncle, R. Smail, founded in Jeannette in 1956. His father, C.B. Smail Sr., eventually took over.

The Smail family has been in the automotive business since 1936, starting out with a Chevrolet dealership in Jeannette, according to a story in a special January 1961 Tribune-Review business edition.

By 1961, the business had showrooms in Jeannette and on South Maple Avenue in Greensburg. The dealership later built east of Greensburg along Route 30 in Hempfield.

Without Bud Smail, that stretch of highway might look very different. Smail faced skepticism when he proposed opening his first dealership in Hempfield, said Doug Weimer, a township supervisor.

“The other businessmen at the time thought he was too far away from either population center (Latrobe or Greensburg), and he wasn’t going to thrive there, and he certainly proved everyone wrong,” Weimer said.

His dealerships became the centerpiece of what evolved into a busy commercial district.

“The commercial corridor in Hempfield township actually grew up around the Smail dealership, and I think it was a linchpin for development in Hempfield,” Weimer said.

Smail Auto Group grew to include 10 car franchises and more than 400 employees.

In 2015, Smail talked to the Tribune-Review about his passion for selling cars after receiving a lifetime achievement award from the Pennsylvania Automotive Association.

“It’s one of the major purchases in a person’s life,” he said at the time. “I think it just so much affects how people live, whether they jump in their car and go to the grocery store or jump in the car and go to California.”

“He meant just about everything, he served in just about every leadership level there is on the local, state and national level,” said John Putzier, executive director of the Greater Pittsburgh Automobile Dealers Association.

Smail served as past president of both the regional and state automobile dealers associations, on the board of the National Automobile Dealers Association and as a member of the American International Automobile Dealers Association.

He also served on the boards of the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, Westmoreland County Community College, the Westmoreland Cultural Trust, and the American Heart Association of Western Pennsylvania.

In 2012, the dealership association created a special lifetime achievement award to honor Smail.

“He is what we call a servant leader, he gives and gives,” Putzier said. “His whole family is like that, but he was the patriarch.”

Charities associated with Smail and his business include Feherty’s Troops First Foundation, Magee-Women’s Research Institute & Foundation, Westmoreland Walks Inc., National Parkinson Foundation-Western Pennsylvania, JDRF-Walk to Cure Diabetes, Westmoreland Cultural Trust, the United Way and Westmoreland County Community College.

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