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Liz Dimmitt drives museum, auto dealership forward with continual change

“We had to decide ‘This too shall pass.’ That was a scary time, but we had faith that sooner or later the world would have to open back up.” –Liz Dimmitt, Dimmitt Chevrolet/Fairgrounds St. Pete

More than 150,000 visitors have been to Fairgrounds St. Pete since Liz Dimmitt opened it in 2021.
More than 150,000 visitors have been to Fairgrounds St. Pete since Liz Dimmitt opened it in 2021.
Photo by Mark Wemple
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A tragedy turned into a life-changing and career-altering event for Liz Dimmitt. 

Dimmitt was living in New York back in 2017, working as what she called a “cultural strategist,” putting together art installations in the Tampa area, when her brother took his own life. 

“He was working in the dealership and was the one who was running Dimmitt Chevrolet,” Dimmitt says. “Not only is this a tragedy for us and our family but also for these employees.” 

The 130 people working at the car dealership needed a leader. 

“So I just started going into the dealership with my dad and letting people know this dealership is bigger than all of us — it’s been through the Depression, World War II, Vietnam,” Dimmitt says. Dimmitt Chevrolet has been around since 1924.

Ultimately, she ended up taking the position her brother had, moving with her husband to Florida, and becoming the managing partner at Dimmitt Chevrolet.

Dimmitt, with an undergraduate degree in finance from Georgetown University and a master’s in art business from NYU, says in New York she ran a world blue-chip gallery before going into the strategy side of the art world.

Her brother's death gave her “the gumption to put my name out there and go big,” Dimmitt says. “That’s when I decided that I wanted to do an immersive art space."

She asked around town and found partners and investors for Fairgrounds St. Pete, an immersive art experience with a Florida theme.

"I always wanted to have my own art space and do something big and have an art warehouse, but of course that was cost-prohibitive in New York City. Now when I’m in Florida, Fairgrounds St. Pete became a reality," Dimmitt says.

“Out of this tragedy, obviously I would rather have my brother alive, but that is really what triggered me moving back home,” Dimmitt says.

She now spends her time divided equally between Dimmitt Chevrolet and Fairgrounds St. Pete.


More than 150,000 visitors have been to Fairgrounds St. Pete since it opened in 2021. It has 20 full-time and 10 part-time employees. Dimmitt Chevrolet, meanwhile, has 130 employees.

On the revenue side, Fairgrounds St. Pete did $2 million in 2023, Dimmitt says, while Dimmitt Chevrolet posted $97 million. 

Dimmitt adds that the car dealership has a “negative growth profit margin on a lot of new cars we sell. You literally don’t make money on selling new cars a lot of the time, or [you make] very slim margins.” She says a profit of $100 or $200 is possible on a new car. Usually the average is to lose money on selling a new vehicle, she adds.

“You don’t make money in selling the car. You make money in service. You make it in selling warranties or financial products,” Dimmitt says. “It’s very counterintuitive.”

Early challenges

The investors in Fairgrounds St. Pete cemented an agreement with Dimmitt and her partners on March 1, 2020. 

Two weeks later, “the world shut down,” and people wondered whether they would be able to go out anymore due to the pandemic, Dimmitt recalls.

“We had to decide 'this too shall pass,'” she says. “We put our heads down and went to work remotely. That was a scary time, but we had faith that sooner or later the world would have to open back up.”

Liz Dimmitt opened Fairgrounds St. Pete in 2021.
Photo by Mark Wemple

Earlier than they planned, the leaders of Fairgrounds St. Pete put out a call for artists, since many people were laid off or not going in to work and had time to create.

“All of a sudden, we had the pick of the litter because we were the only people in Tampa Bay saying, ‘We’re building; we’re going to open,’” Dimmitt says. Fairgrounds St. Pete opened in September 2021.

The effects of the pandemic continue to impact the business.

“The pandemic remains a challenge today. Basically people don’t make plans as far out as they used to,” Dimmitt says. “Models of studies show this – people used to book tickets in advance; now, they’re deciding what to do Thursday or Friday.” 

Unlike many businesses, Dimmitt Chevrolet stayed open throughout the pandemic, because it was deemed essential.

“You still need your car serviced,” Dimmitt says. Doctors, nurses, and other personnel who were still working every day needed their vehicles to be operational, and “fixing someone’s car happens in person.” 

Biggest mistake 

“People are always the hardest thing,” Dimmitt says.

Making incorrect hires or partnering with people who were not the right fit have proven challenging, she says.

“When it’s your company, you get to work with people you like or respect,” she says, which is a benefit. 

However, “when you find people who aren’t quite a match," she adds, "it’s hard to untangle yourself.”

Tipping point 

“I’m not there yet,” Dimmitt says in regard to Fairgrounds St. Pete. “It has to be constantly evolving and pivoting.” 

Particularly at Fairgrounds St. Pete, she says the model is a challenge.

Getting “people to spend their disposable income and more importantly their free time with you is a constant evolution,” Dimmitt says. “I have to constantly be upgrading, changing, marketing. The dealership is the same way but at least cars are a necessary thing – you’re in Tampa Bay.”

Best advice 

“Everything takes more time and costs more money than you think it’s going to,” Dimmitt says. "No one is an overnight success."

Entrepreneurship, she adds, requires resources not always evident in the final product.

“There’s so much work going on behind the scenes,” Dimmitt says. “Having had a startup and launched it and now operating it, I appreciate the understanding of how much went into that.”



Elizabeth King

Elizabeth is a business news reporter with the Business Observer, covering primarily Sarasota-Bradenton, in addition to other parts of the region. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University, she previously covered hyperlocal news in Maryland for Patch for 12 years. Now she lives in Sarasota County.

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