Jefferson Street: Vacated car dealerships back in business
By Bob Okon firstname.lastname@example.org September 24, 2013 9:08PM
The sale of the property has not been finalized, but the 4.4 acre site that used to be Joliet Dodge is slated for a Panera Bread, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Aldi store. | Bob Okon~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 26, 2013 6:36AM
The last of the vacated Jefferson Street car dealerships in Joliet is being put back to use.
Turbulence in the car industry has led to changes on Jefferson Street as brands such as Oldsmobile, Pontiac and Saturn went away, other brands consolidated dealerships, and some dealers relocated.
Over the years, seven new-car dealership locations on Jefferson Street were vacated, diminishing the street’s status as car row. But business is back in some form or another at all the sites where dealerships disappeared.
Last week, a developer laid out his plans to turn the old Joliet Dodge site at Jefferson and Caterpillar Drive into a restaurant retail center that will include Panera Bread and Chipotle restaurants. The 4.4-acre Joliet Dodge site will be the last of the vacated dealerships put to new use.
“It’s a sign that investors and developers have confidence in Joliet and are willing to spend their money here,” City Manager Thomas Thanas said Tuesday. “I also think it all started with Terry D’Arcy taking on the old Saturn dealership.”
D’Arcy acquired the Saturn dealership that closed after General Motors shut down the brand, and he used it to create a location solely for Volkswagen sales, choosing Jefferson Street to expand his sales of that brand. It was a sure sign that car row was still alive when the new D’Arcy Volkswagen dealership opened in early 2012.
Bill Jacobs Chevrolet, a fixture on Jefferson Street for a half-century, also has continued to redevelop at its location and has recently completed a remodeling at the combined Chevrolet-Cadillac dealership.
Both Bill Jacobs and D’Arcy have multiple dealerships on Jefferson Street, another sign of how the car business has changed since the days when several dealers competed head to head with individual brands.
Two of the new-car dealerships have been taken over by a new breed of used-car dealers.
Mazhar R. Bhatti last week opened his Your Choice Auto Sales on the former Gregg Motors property, and it’s not what Oldsmobile might have called your grandfather’s used car lot.
Bhatti is using all the space Gregg Motors used and plans to have an inventory of 500 used cars when the business is fully built out. He already has hired two mechanics for his service garage and plans to hire more. He will open a body shop. And Bhatti plans to use the old Gregg Motors parts department for his own auto parts store.
Bhatti, who has three used-car businesses in south suburban Cook County and worked in Joliet before getting into car sales, said he had been eying the Gregg Motors site for two years before buying it.
“It was a car dealership. It has all the facilities,” Bhatti said.
Plus, it has something Jefferson Street car dealers always counted on — location. “It’s right off the highway (Interstate 80) and in the middle of the city,” Bhatti said.
Another new-car dealership converted to used cars is the former Bert Adams Pontiac, which is now a Car Outlet. The company also uses all the space the Pontiac dealership had.
A former Ron Tirapelli Ford site was acquired by Bill Jacobs, which is across the street and uses the property to display used vehicles. Tirapelli relocated farther west on Jefferson — so far west that most of his dealership is in Shorewood, although a part of it is in the city of Joliet.
Jim Torri, a planner for Joliet, said other companies are looking for used car locations, but sites are getting hard to find. One rental car company is looking for a Joliet location to use for sale of its cars, he said.
“They’d probably love to find a place on Jefferson Street,” Torri said.
But all the old car dealerships have been taken.
The other old dealership sites are:
A former D’Arcy Oldsmobile-GMC site at Stryker Avenue, which is now a Bank of America branch. D’Arcy moved those brands to Essington Road, when he needed more space.
A former Tyson Motors site at Hammes Avenue, which is now a Walgreens. Tyson, like Tirapelli, stayed on Jefferson but moved farther west for more space in Shorewood.