Ira Rosenberg sits and chats with people at his retirement party on Friday at Prime Toyota in Saco. Credit: Liz Gotthelf | Journal Tribune

SACO, Maine — For many, Ira Rosenberg is a household name. Just say Ira, and many in the area know who you’re talking about. The legendary car dealer has an empire of dealerships in New England and is known for starring in his commercials and his generous contributions to the community.

It’s no surprise, then, that when this local celebrity retired, he went out with a bang.

On Friday, after more than 50 years in business, he officially passed the helm to son David at a celebration at Prime Toyota in Saco. There were a number of dignitaries present, including Saco Mayor Ron Michaud, First Lady Ann LePage and representatives from the offices of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and U.S. Sen. Angus King. Refreshments included food and champagne.

Also in attendance was Massachusetts radio talk-show host Howie Carr, who aired his show live from the Saco dealership during the celebration.

Rosenberg told Carr he began in the car business by changing tires then moved on to another job in the service department before selling cars.

“The first car I sold, I was hooked,” Rosenberg said.

Rosenberg opened his first dealership in 1975, and today the Prime Motor Group owns and operates about 30 dealerships in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.

“I’m 80 years old,” Rosenberg said. “I think I’m a young 80. I don’t feel 80.”

Carr asked Rossenberg what his favorite car was, and Rosenberg said his favorite car for years was a Toyota Highlander. Carr said Rosenberg’s choice was a reliable model. Rosenberg’s response, “I don’t have to have the fanciest, biggest car in the world, but my wife does,” generated much laughter.

Rosenberg thanked his employees, whom he said he thought of as family. As for retirement, he said, “I’m not sure I’m going to be able to handle it.”

In true Ira fashion, the event also included a donation to the community. Rosenberg gave $15,000 to retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills, founder of The Travis Mills Foundation, a Maine-based nonprofit organization that benefits and assists wounded and injured veterans and their families.