Darwish, formerly a minority partner in a New Jersey Audi dealership and a platform manager for Napleton Automotive Group, said that after entering into an agreement with Fuccillo in August 2020, he ran into several delays. His lawyer’s office shut down because of COVID-19, and Darwish contracted the disease.

“I almost died,” he told Automotive News. “I was in the hospital for 19 days.”

Darwish said he was on oxygen for two months but recovered. Then in June 2021, Fuccillo Automotive CEO Billy Fuccillo Sr. died.

Darwish said he had little sleep over those 20 months as he worked to meet with multiple manufacturers and banks to wrap up the deal.

He now has a staff of more than 400 people, whom Darwish described as “very good workers.”

“The staff that came along with this deal is spectacular,” he said. “The team is a tremendous team.”

Fuccillo Automotive Group just a few years ago boasted more than 20 dealerships, but it has sold numerous stores in the past year-plus. In early 2021, the group sold five New York dealerships to Matthews Auto Group. Then in March 2021, it sold two Kia dealerships in Florida to LMP Automotive Holdings Inc. In August last year, it sold a Nissan dealership in Clearwater, Fla., to Morgan Automotive Group.

Billy Fuccillo Jr., president of the Fuccillo group, didn’t respond to requests for comment from Automotive News. The group’s website still lists seven franchised rooftops in New York.

Two of Fuccillo Automotive’s General Motors dealerships in New York closed around the time of the Darwish transaction: Fuccillo Chevrolet-Buick at the Auto Mall in Adams and Fuccillo Chevrolet of Nelliston. A GM spokesman confirmed the franchises were terminated in late April and early May. As part of his transaction, Darwish bought the real estate for both locations.

He plans to use the sites as used-vehicle stores and hopes to apply to reopen the Chevrolet store in Adams.

Darwish, 50, who said he is a college dropout, has wanted to own a car dealership since he was 21.

“I sacrificed everything to get here,” he said. “I risked everything to get here.”

And he wants more. Darwish said he wants by year’s end to look for more dealerships to buy, as he hopes to own 90-plus stores in the next seven years.

“Once I get going, I want to keep going,” he said.

Bob Morris with Tim Lamb Group, a buy-sell firm in Columbus, Ohio, represented the seller in the transaction, Darwish said.