Published: 16:55, 05 June 2020
| Updated: 17:36, 05 June 2020
A car dealership that has been running for more than 50 years has closed down - with 21 workers losing their jobs.
Northgate Garage Group, based in Canterbury, has sold and serviced tens of thousands of cars to drivers across the south-east since it opened in 1968.
During the group's long history, it has comprised sites stretching from Deal to Hampshire - beginning with petrol stations, before evolving into businesses specialising in parts, servicing, and selling used and new cars.
But most recently, the firm has operated Northgate Garage - a Fiat and Abarth dealership based in Vauxhall Road, Canterbury, which also serviced the other Fiat group brands which include Alfa Romeo and Jeep.
It also has a sister branch in Whitstable.
But owner Peter Hinkins, 66, has announced the Canterbury site has now closed down, to allow for his retirement.
Twenty-one members of staff have been made redundant as a result.
The coronavirus pandemic - which forced the garage to close prematurely in March - has scuppered the firm's plans for a ceremonious send-off.
"We closed for the lockdown, and took the decision fairly soon after that that we wouldn't reopen, as we would have been closing a few weeks later anyway," said Mr Hinkins, a grandfather-of-four who lives in Kingsdown, Deal.
"It is a shame. It would have been good to say goodbye to customers."
Cars have been Mr Hinkins' lifeblood since he was eight years old, when he remembers pumping petrol at his parents' first business.
"My mother and father started in Deal, where they had a petrol business back in 1963," he recalls.
"I was pulling petrol by hand - you had to wind the petrol into a glass jar then release it into the tank by gravity back then. So I've been in the business pretty much all my life."
In 1968, his parents Jack and Thelma launched Northgate Garage in Canterbury, and Mr Hinkins joined the business full-time four years later.
"I didn't take it over until my mother died in 1987," he said. "After that my dad had lost interest, because it was a joint thing between them."
But Mr Hinkins says the time has now come for him to retire and that there is no natural successor to carry on the business.
"It ends here," he said. "I've got two children but they took a different route. I warned them off the motor trade - it's too up and down!"
He added: "We'd like to thank everybody for their loyalty to our business - all our customers over the years, many of whom we treat as friends, we've known them that long.
"We're sad not to be able to serve them any more, but we're working hard to make sure their needs can be met in the future."
Northgate Garage Group's Whitstable branch - Harbour Garage Ltd - is remaining open.
"We're already looking after lots of our customers' cars from Canterbury here at Harbour Garage, and that can continue," he said.
He added that plans are afoot for Northgate Garage to be taken over by new owners, but was unable to provide further details at this stage.
Mr Hinkins has placed the company into administration, as a way of winding it down.
"We're going through an administrator because, especially during lockdown, it's very difficult to manage a way out," he explained.
"So we've taken the professional route, because they talk to valuers and people that sell the cars on.
"The lockdown situation has complicated it a little bit. It would have been a fairly managed transmission and a big farewell party, but we haven't been able to do it during this period.