FORD MOTOR CO. CLOSED A LINCOLN MERCURY dealership in my hometown, bringing back good memories - and a horrible one - of a venerable store.
Ford bought out the Royal Oak, MI franchise of David Jankovich, who owned Diamond Lincoln Mercury on a suburban downtown corner where cars had been sold for 55 years, starting with DeSotos and Plymouths.
Ford's buy-out is to thin out the number of metro Detroit's Lincoln Mercury dealerships, which now stands at 16 with Diamond out of commission.
"There are just too many Lincoln Mercury dealerships in the area," says Mr. Jankovich. Might more be bought and closed? "I'm not at liberty to talk about that," he says.
His father, George Jankovich, bought the dealership in 1973, changing the name from Hutchinson to Diamond. The elder Jankovich started working there in 1962 as a used-car salesman. He was general manager when he bought the place. Its centerpiece is an attractive red-brick colonial-style main building topped with a cupola.
The younger Jankovich, 38, started working there as a boy, beginning as a porter.
"I've worked at the dealership all my life," he says. "I'd like to stay in the automotive retailing business. So if someone out there is looking for somebody..."
News of the dealership's closing surprised my wife because her late father, a Mercury man, bought all his cars there.
"I remember as a girl how exciting it was to go there with my dad to get the new family car," she says. "The place was a local landmark."
Mr. Jankovich says he's disappointed by Ford's decision to buy him out, but he understands it.
Not only are too many Lincoln Mercury dealerships in metro Detroit, but his particular store was confined to a compact lot in a central business district.
"I tried to grow the business but there was no room to grow," he says.
One of the worst days of his professional life was in March of 1998 when all hell broke loose after a young man, using false identification, unlawfully tried to drive off the lot in a dealership car.
Employees called the police who thereupon stopped the man in front of the dealership. A struggle ensued. A police officer's gun accidentally discharged, fatally wounding the man who was still in the car.
"It was terrible," says Mr. Jankovich. "My employees were affected. A couple of them were so traumatized, they quit."
Kudos to dealers: Tom Purves, who heads BMW of North America often makes it a point, during his various appearances, to offer accolades to dealers.
For instance, addressing the Automotive Press Association in Detroit, he said he had just visited a local dealership, Erhard BMW of Bloomfield Hills, MI.
"It kind of represents what Detroit represents - history and tradition," says Mr. Purves. "It was started by immigrants from Germany, who were technicians and began with nothing."
Tech-turned-dealer Erhard Dahm is the owner of the 36-year-old store.
Meanwhile, at a New York Auto Show press conference, Mr. Purves recognized a member of the audience - Vivian Reeves, owner of one of Florida's oldest and largest BMW dealerships, Reeves BMW in Tampa.
Mrs. Reeves' late husband, Allen, started a VW dealership in 1971 and the BMW dealership three years later. She helped him run the store since 1978.
Mr. Reeves died this year. Mrs. Reeves says she plans to continue to run the dealership. But she's still mourning her loss. She traveled to the New York Auto Show because "I needed to get away."
She didn't expect Mr. Purves to recognize her during a press conference for BMW's new 330xi all-wheel drive sedan.
"I was so surprised I didn't even hear what he said," she tells me.
On with the show: This was a special year for the New York International Auto Show. It hit the big 100-year mark.
"It's one for the record books," says Mark Schienberg, president of the Greater New York Auto Dealers Association (GNYADA), the show's sponsor.
A group of enthusiasts started the annual event in 1900 with a few exhibits in the old Madison Square Garden during the infancy of the auto industry.
The first show drew 48,000 visitors. Not bad, considering those were still primarily horse-and-carriage days.
"It was a time when only 8,000 cars were on the road," says Bronx dealer John LaSorsa of LaSorsa Buick- Pontiac-Chevrolet Inc., chairman of the 2000 show.
Today's New York auto show draws more than one million visitors checking out more than 1,000 cars and trucks on 815,000 sq.-ft. of the Jacob Javits Convention Center.
Incidentally, the GNYADA is one of the nation's oldest dealer associations.
"A group of Brooklyn dealers formed it as a merchants association back in 1910," says GNYADA Chairman Michael Caruso, who owns a Mercedes-Benz dealership in South Hampton.
Steve Finlay is editor of Ward's Dealer Business. His e-mail address is: [email protected]