By Angeljean Chiaramida STAFF WRITER
Newburyport Daily News
---- — SALISBURY — By Presidents Day, Wall’s Ford expects to be welcoming customers to its new, larger showroom on Route 110.
In the coming weeks, Wall’s Ford — which has been a staple in Salisbury since 1997 — will be packing up its current location along the northern corridor of Route 1 and moving to a former Jeep/Chrysler dealership on Route 110 at the Amesbury border, according to owner John Wall Sr.
Renovations at the new site at 158 Elm St. began over the weekend. If all goes as planned, Wall said the dealership will relocate sometime in mid-January, with a grand opening tentatively planned by Feb. 1, just in time for the busiest car industry holiday of the year.
Wall’s will take over the former site of Seacoast Motors’ Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge dealership, which closed in May 2009. The Route 110 site has been vacant ever since.
“We’re re-doing everything,” Wall said. “We’re bringing everything up to Ford standards. We’re all very excited about this.”
The move will almost double the size of Wall’s current 11,000-square-foot dealership, allowing the business to increase the number of vehicles in its showroom from four to as many as 12 to 14.
But that’s not the only improvements, Wall said. The dealership is upgrading its customer service and waiting areas and creating a separate play area for children and an Internet area where people can work on their computers while waiting for their cars to be serviced, he said.
Wall had his eye on the Route 110 spot for years, but only recently was able to close the deal with Chrysler, which owns the lot. He said it took long negotiations with Chrysler to finalize the deal, but the result will be worth it.
“The building was always nice, but it’s going to be nicer after we finish,” Wall said. “And the location is just wonderful. The car count going by that spot on Route 110 is just awesome.”
Wall wouldn’t disclose the purchase price for the property. According to the Salisbury assessors’ office, the property is valued for tax purposes at $1.77 million.
The move will once again place two new car dealerships within about a quarter-mile of each other. Amesbury Chevrolet is right up the road.
“I think this will be good for everyone,” Wall said. “People can come here and look over to see what we have, then slide up the road and look there, too, or vice versa.
“Hopefully, they’ll buy with us,” he added, laughing.
Wall’s Ford is the last of three new car dealerships that once prospered in Salisbury. The other two have fallen victim to the recent recession, which almost spelled the end for the American car industry.
Jim Dimopoulos, the former owner of Seacoast Motors, closed his dealership after getting word from Chrysler in May 2009 that it was ending its 36-year relationship with him. The action was taken after Chrysler asked U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Arthur Gonzalez to reject dealer agreements for 789 dealers throughout the U.S. in an effort “to conserve cash and pursue transactions that maximize value.”
Since then, Chrysler merged with Italian car giant Fiat as part of its bankruptcy reorganization and repaid the loan it received from the federal government five years earlier than scheduled. However, the company never moved to re-open a franchise in this area.
Fraser Pontiac/Buick/GMC on Bridge Road (Route 1) voluntarily sold back its franchise to General Motors in 2008 due to the state of the car industry at the time. The Fraser family had held the dealership for 84 years.
Wall has been selling cars since 1976, when he opened his first Lincoln/Mercury dealership in Methuen. He launched his dealership on Route 1 near the Seabrook border in 1997. He’s also had a Hyundai dealership in Portsmouth, N.H., and owned Auto Trend in Plaistow, N.H.
He closed the Methuen dealership in October 2009 and sold the lot, but kept the business in Salisbury. At the time, Wall said he’d chosen to give up the Lincoln/Mercury franchise because Ford simply offered more and better products for the cost-conscious consumer.
Wall said the auto industry is looking a lot better today than it did in 2008 and 2009. But the days when American drivers turned in their cars for new ones every 36 months are gone, he said. Because of lessons learned during the recession, people are very careful not to overextend when buying new or used cars, he said.
“We’re servicing cars we’ve not usually seen before, cars that have 150,000 miles on them,” Wall said. “And the reason used cars have cost so much in the last few years is because people are keeping their cars longer and there just aren’t as many used cars as there used to be.
“Some of the trade-ins we’re getting have so many miles on them, we won’t resell them to our customers. We take them straight to the auction. But used car prices and availability have loosened up in the past six months or so.”
As problems plagued the American car industry, causing its near demise, Wall said Ford took the opportunity to be a good listener. As a result, he said, the manufacturer now produces a popular line of greener, gas-efficient cars that are selling well.
“Car sales are good because Ford has so many fuel-efficient cars now,” he said, “But recent high gas prices have been tough on truck sales. Our Eco-Boost truck did very well, but big trucks suffered.”
With the bigger dealership on Route 110, Wall expects to receive a larger annual allotment of vehicles from Ford, meaning a larger selection for customers.
“We could go from our 250-vehicle-a-year allocation to 400 a year,” Wall said. “That’s a big difference.”
The difference also will mean new jobs, he said. The company is already gearing up, bringing on two new sales representatives. There could be more new hires to come as well.
“We’ll need a couple more (auto repair) technicians and at least two more cashiers,” he said. “And there could be more.”