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Tom Barros seen at his Town Toyota dealership in 2001, just before moving it to East Wenatchee. He died Tuesday at 78.

EAST WENATCHEE — Tom Barros, the founder of the Town Auto Group and one of the early champions of the Town Toyota Center, died Tuesday at the age of 78.

Barros started with a single Toyota car dealership in Wenatchee in the 1980s and built up a small empire under the “Town” name. There are now four Town dealerships in the valley.

Through it all, his focus was taking care of the people around him, said Tony Lisson, the Town Auto Group general manager and Barros’ nephew.

“There was something that he always preached to all of us, whether it was family or whoever it was: that the only reason that he became who he was, was because of the people around him,” Lisson said in an interview Wednesday. “He said, ‘If I take care of the people around me, then they’ll take care of the business itself.’ It was always about taking care of everybody else, it was never about him.”

In the early 2000s Barros decided to move his Toyota dealership to East Wenatchee, setting the stage for the company’s growth in the area.

“He decided to take a big leap and build a brand-new store out in East Wenatchee, across from Costco where there was nothing but orchards,” Lisson said. “... I think there were a lot of people in town that questioned the move, but he was pretty confident it was going to work out and it did.”

By 2008 he had purchased four other dealerships in Wenatchee, including the well-known Reichert Nissan.

Eventually the renamed Town Nissan and Town Ford Lincoln both moved next to Town Toyota on the south end of East Wenatchee.

TRAILERS LEAVE, TOYOTA CENTER

Linda Haglund, center, shows Town Toyota owner Tom Barros and his some of his family their new suite at the renamed Town Toyota Arena after a ceremony in 2008. At left is Barros’s daughter, Christine Barros, and at right is his nephew and general manager of Town Toyota, Tony Lisson.

Around the same time, the city of Wenatchee was looking for someone to purchase naming rights for what was then called the Greater Wenatchee Regional Events Center.

Barros stepped up.

“They were looking for the naming rights and I think that’s when it was starting to get a little on the negative side,” Lisson said. “People were talking about the event center as a burden on the local economy and the taxpayers. He decided this will be the next thing, let’s see what we can do to help out.”

Town Auto Group spent $1 million for five years of naming rights and has renewed the agreement twice since the original contract in 2008, Lisson said.

“It is fantastic to do such a great thing for the community,” Barros told The Wenatchee World at the time. “I hope it will be a fantastic success.”

Three of the Town dealerships will stay in the Barros family and one, Town Ford Lincoln, was recently purchased by business partner Pat Armstrong, Lisson said.