Brad, left, and Mitch Woodbrey stand with portraits of their father Herbert, left photo, and grandfather Victor, who ran Sebago Lake Automotive before them. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

WINDHAM — One hundred years after first opening its doors, Sebago Lake Automotive is celebrating a century in business, especially the “really good people” who have worked for them over the years.

The car sales and repair business, which has been passed down through three generations of the Woodbrey family, has weathered changes and challenges over the decades, but has survived thanks to its excellent employees and good customers, family members say.

A newspaper ad from 1940 advertises Sebago Lake Automotive, then Sebago Lake Garage. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

The customers are the same now as it was back in the ’50s,” former owner Herbert Woodbrey said. “I don’t think they haggled as much (then) as they do nowadays.”

Sebago Lake Automotive, originally known as Woodbrey Brothers, was founded in 1920 in Sebago Lake Village by Victor Woodbrey and his brother. Victor bought his brother out in 1923 and renamed the business Sebago Lake Garage. Early on, they sold used cars and ran a repair shop, but in 1928, they got a Chevrolet dealership.

During World War II, Victor ran a bus line, with three trips a day, from Fryeburg to the shipyard in South Portland where men built ships for the Navy.

Victor died in 1949, and his son Herbert took over in 1950. Back then, current co-owner Mitch Woodbrey said, there was a large air horn on top of the building that would sound when something bad happened in town.

“That was kind of the only way to communicate. You could hear it for miles,” he said. 

In the 1960s, Herbert ran a school bus line for SAD 6 with 18 school buses.

The day after Christmas in 1984, the business moved to its current location in Windham on Roosevelt Trail and was renamed Sebago Lake Chevrolet in 1986.

Herbert Woodbrey, left, and a Chevrolet representative with Woodbrey’s fleet of school buses in 1968. Courtesy photo

“(Windham is) a bigger town,” Herbert said, “so I knew I could get a lot more sales and hopefully make more money.”

Herbert said the internet revolutionized car sales and “made it tougher on the dealers to make any money. You can get on the internet and find exactly what it costs the dealer right to the penny.” 

Herbert’s sons Mitch and Brad, whose house growing up was a mere four steps away from the original garage in Standish, took over running the business from him in the 1990s.

In 2008, General Motors took away the business’s franchise in a nationwide effort to cut 40% of its network.

Sebago Lake Automotive is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

It was trumped up and convoluted, to say the least,” Herbert’s son Brad said. “It was hell.” 

“That was a huge thing,” said Mitch. “That was a very difficult time.” 

Despite 4,700 petition signatures, the deal was done. The business was renamed Sebago Lake Automotive.

Since then, Brad said, business has been OK. Although staffing is down to 12 employees from a high of 39, all of the Woodbreys are proud of their employees.

“I had some awful good people working for me,” Herbert said.

We’ve had a lot of really great people working for us over the years,” Brad said. 

They are also proud of the many customers they’ve served.

The Woodbrey brothers display a vintage Corvair in their lobby. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

To celebrate its 100th anniversary, Sebago Lake Automotive will host an event or sponsor a non-profit organization each month for the year of 2020. For the month of January, the business is sponsoring Harvest Hills Animal Shelter in Fryeburg.

Mitch and Brad are considering retiring, although Mitch said “there’s no great super rush about it.”

None of their children want to take over the family business, so Brad said they would hire someone else to take over.

“I’ve been doing it for 37 years, (Brad’s) been doing it for 44 years,” Mitch said. “We’re still here, still breathing, still going.” 

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