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Jax Daily Record Monday, Dec. 6, 202108:30 PM EST

Butler Automotive buys Ernie Palmer Toyota in West Jacksonville

The Macon, Georgia, company will change the name but keep the 97 employees at the Cassat Avenue dealership.

Ernie Palmer Toyota is now Butler Toyota Jacksonville after Macon, Georgia-based Butler Automotive Group acquired the West Jacksonville dealership.

Butler Automotive said in a news release it intends to retain Ernie Palmer’s 97 employees, adding them to its workforce of 650. Mark Hammel remains general manager.

Ernie Palmer Toyota operates at 1290 Cassat Ave. The dealership succeeded Westside Toyota.

The purchase from Ernie Palmer Inc. marks Butler Automotive Group’s entrance into the North Florida market.

“We look forward to integrating into the Jacksonville community and showing our customers how special it is to do business with a family-owned and operated dealership,” said Co-President Marsh Butler in the release.

He is co-president with his brother, Morris Butler. They are third-generation owners.

Ernie Palmer Toyota is now Butler Toyota at 1290 Cassat Ave. in West Jacksonville.

“We want Butler Toyota Jacksonville to not only be the preferred dealership to do business with, but to also be the preferred dealership in the area to work at,” said Morris Butler in the release.

“Our employees are an extension of our family.”

According to the release, Butler Automotive Group finalized the deal Dec. 6. It said the process to buy the dealership started in September.

The purchase included the 9-acre property.

Butler Jax Acquisition LLC registered the Butler Toyota Jacksonville name Nov. 22 with the state Department of Corporations. The mailing address is in Macon and the owner’s address is 1290 Cassat Ave.

Duval County property records show the dealership was built in 1970 and later rebuilt and expanded.

Palmer Cleland Realty of Jacksonville LLC bought the 1290 Cassat Ave. property in 2003 from Duval Motor Co. 

Westside Toyota Inc. owns the parking lot next to it, records show.

The dealership underwent a $7 million redevelopment in 2013-14.

“It’s needed to be done for a long time,” said Mark Cleland, corporate treasurer of Ernie Palmer Inc., in September 2013.

The used-car operation at 1290 Cassat Ave. was demolished and the site rebuilt. The dealership space totals about 54,000 square feet.

The former new-car dealership at 1310 Cassat Ave. was demolished to be used as a parking lot for vehicle inventory.

Butler Automotive said the property “is state of the art with minimal improvements needed.”

 It said the dealership “meets all of Toyota’s current standards and beyond.” 

Cleland said upon the 2013-14 renovations that Palmer Cleland Realty would lease the property to the dealership. 

Westside Toyota was incorporated in 1974 at 1310 Cassat Ave. The Palmer family amended the name to Ernie Palmer Inc. in 2008.

The Ernie Palmer website says the dealership has been family-owned and operated.

“In 1982 the Palmer family set out to build one of the finest Toyota dealerships in our hometown. Ernie’s original customer satisfaction credo is alive and well today,” said the website, which is being converted to Butler Automotive Group.

“Ernie Palmer Toyota has been serving customers from Jacksonville, Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia. We carry a large inventory of new Toyotas, like the Toyota Camry, Toyota Tundra, Toyota Sienna, Toyota Prius and other new Toyota models,” the Ernie Palmer website said.

It also sells used vehicles.

Butler Automotive Group said in the Dec. 6 release the acquisition of the Toyota dealership fits its mission of making the company the best place to work, and in turn, the best place to do business for customers. 

From left, Marshall “Marsh” Butler Jr., Bonnie Butler, Jane Butler, Marshall Butler Sr., Dixie Clark and Morris Butler. Marshall Butler Sr. and Jane Butler are parents of the four siblings.

The company said it would like to grow in the greater Jacksonville area.

The release said family-owned Butler Automotive Group is more than 50 years old.

It has 13 dealerships in Georgia, South Carolina and now Jacksonville.

Its brands include Honda and Ford as well as Acura, Lexus, Audi, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, Toyota and Nissan.

It said it supports groups and organizations in its local communities, including schools.

According to the company website, the family’s history in the car business spans eight decades.

In 1933, Milton Butler purchased the Chevrolet dealership in Alma, Georgia, and sold it in 1966.

Milton Butler and his son, Marshall Butler Sr., bought the Macon Toyota franchise in 1970.

Marshall Jr. and Morris, Marshall Sr.’s sons, joined the auto group in the 1990s and became the third generation of Butlers in the family. In 2009, they became co-presidents.

The brothers work with their sisters Bonnie Butler Gibson, a former general manager at a dealership and current board member, and Dixie Butler Clark, who oversees accounting for the company. 

Ernie Palmer Inc. is led by Keith A. Palmer as president. He is dealer principal of Palmer’s Toyota Superstore in Mobile, Alabama. His son, Jacob Palmer, is COO.

The dealership website describes him as a second-generation Toyota dealer. Keith Palmer also leads Palmer’s Airport Hyundai in Mobile.

The family could not be reached Dec. 7.


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