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Andy Crews of AutoFair on Hanover Street in Manchester earlier this week. He has been selected as Citizen of the Year by the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER))

AutoFair CEO Andy Crews' community involvement paved path to citizen of the year honor

MANCHESTER — AutoFair CEO Andy Crews has been active in enough causes to be wary of what a lunch invitation from Mayor Ted Gatsas and other civic leaders was likely to involve.

Instead of being recruited, Crews was quite surprised to learn he was being recognized as Citizen of the Year by the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.

“I had no idea — zero,” Crews said. “It was not something on the radar.”

Crews chuckled as he recalled just how much he was surprised by the honor. He has taken an active role in the community since moving to New Hampshire from the St. Louis area to take over AutoFair Automotive Group's three dealerships in 2006. AutoFair has grown to eight stores, expanding with two in Massachusetts, and has doubled the number of brands it offers to six.

But it's Crews' work outside of AutoFair that brought him the recognition as the chamber's citizen of the year.

He is the former chairman of the chamber's board of directors and currently sits on many other boards, including the Palace Theatre, Granite State Children's Alliance and Live Free or Die Alliance, to name a few.

“Andy is one of those people with the biggest hearts I've ever seen. He's always willing to help on a lot of fronts,” Gatsas said Friday. “There are so many things that Andy Crews does, and it's not because he's looking for recognition.”

One of Crews' current missions is converting the former Hoitt Furniture building into an integrated drug treatment and recovery center for HOPE for New Hampshire Recovery.

It's a special project for Crews and his family. Crews' wife, Melissa, chairs the HOPE board and has been active for several years in pushing for improvements in New Hampshire's treatment and recovery options for those battling addiction. Melissa's involvement predates the existing opioid epidemic, which has brought the cause to the forefront.

Melissa, who has been in recovery from alcohol addiction for more than 20 years, helped convince her husband to make AutoFair a recovery-friendly business for employees, and the family's efforts have grown from there.

Frustrated with the bickering and slow pace of state government's efforts to help, Crews and other business leaders set out to make a difference themselves.

Crews said part of the battle most overlooked is how to help people who have been through treatment and are serious about getting pulled back into the daily battle against addiction.

“How do you keep them clean? Recovery is the only way that that's going to happen,” he said. “We've got to put resources in the state into both treatment and recovery.”

Other leaders in the project include Dick Anagnost, who was the 2010 Citizen of the Year. Crews has grown close to Anagnost and other community leaders, such as Eastern Bank New Hampshire regional president Joseph B. Reilly, 2012 Citizen of the Year, and Brady Sullivan real estate development principal Arthur Sullivan, who received the honor in 2013.

Crews was actually part of the selection committee when Reilly won the award, which made this year's honor all the more touching.

“You know the contributions that they have made to the city. I've got a lot of respect for both those individuals,” he said.

Crews acknowledged being humbled by the honor, which he will officially receive during a banquet on April 14 at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester.

Michael Skelton, CEO and president of the chamber, said Crews was clearly deserving of the award.

“Andy has been throughout his career up here an extraordinarily committed chamber member from the get-go,” Skelton said. “He has always been supportive of our efforts, willingly engaging, sponsoring and supporting chamber endeavors.”

Originally from Georgia, Crews said he worked at a gas station as a teenager, then joined the U.S. Marine Corps and served as a diesel technician. After his military service, Crews started in the business selling cars, quickly establising himself as a rising star in the industry.

Crews, 45, was presented with the Time National Dealer of the Year award last year at the National Automobile Dealers Association Convention and Exposition.

Crews said his philanthropic efforts are inspired by the way he was raised. He may be unwilling in the area of self-promotion, but Gatsas, Skelton and others in the community are happy to recognize the many things he has brought to the community since arriving here in 2006.

“When it came to Andy, he has a little bit of a unique background in that he has only been here 10 years, yet his accomplishments are that of someone who's been here for much, much longer than that,” Skelton said.

“That was really something that weighed on the committee considerably. It showed just how much commitment and engagement and leadership he has within our community.”

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