By Nate Owen
Dave Calabrese launched his automotive career as a technician for Goodyear in 1977, but he began buying and selling cars before he was old enough to drive.
“I bought my first car when I was 13,” Calabrese, the owner of Middletown Nissan, says. “It was a 1965 Oldsmobile from two streets away with a ‘For Sale’ sign on it. I wasn’t legal to drive yet so my mother had to help me bring it home.” Calabrese bought the car for $35, fixed it, and sold it for $100.
Calebrese worked his way up the ranks from technician to owner of Middletown Nissan since 1995. That experience has given him an understanding of what his employees go through each day.
“Being a first generation car dealer, I have a deep appreciation for my employees because I’ve done most of their jobs,” Calabrese says. “Happy employees mean happy customers.”
Calabrese isn’t kidding when he says he’s been at every step of the ladder. After working for Goodyear he took his technician’s skills to a Chevrolet dealer in New York and then Bob Sharp Ferrari Nissan in Wilton. In Wilton he moved to the front of the dealership running the used car department and was eventually promoted to general manager.
While at the dealership, Calabrese had a chance to work on cars for Bob Sharp racing with actor Paul Newman as a driver. “The entire body shop would build sheet metal for the racing cars, so I got to know him a little bit,” Calabrese says.
Calabrese doesn’t fix cars at work anymore, but he does collect collectible cars including a 1964 Corvette convertible, a 1969 Yenko Camaro, and a 1990 Nissan 300ZX.
Calabrese started out with a showroom with a portable toilet as his 10,000-square-foot dealership was being built. After outgrowing that space, he bought land across the street, opening a 33,000-square-foot shop in 2006.
“It was always a dream,” Calabrese said of owning his own company. “Some people wait for it to happen, and others go out and make it happen. I knew I wasn’t going to be happy until I was at least running a store, and I knew once I was able to financially, I wanted to buy my own.”
Some might see the added responsibility as owner as stressful, but it’s something Calabrese says he thrives on.
“I enjoy meeting people, working with my employees and marketing my business,” he says. “Every day there is a different ball to field; you come in to do one thing and wind up with 15 other things to do.”