You want to know what small-town car dealerships were like many decades ago? In downtown Springfield, across the river from Eugene, Springfield Buick is like a time machine, except that the cars are new. Family owned since its opening in 1949, this little Buick store has bucked many trends, as well as GM’s edict to eliminate stand-alone stores as part of their post-bankruptcy reorganization. Did it somehow fall through the cracks? No matter; here it still is, just like it always has been for 64 years. Let’s drop in for a visit.
Proudly displayed on the wall in the showroom is the announcement of the Grand Opening, on April 23, 1949. And the building looks exactly the same except for the signs and the new cars out front.
Obviously, the interior has been remodeled. Corey Churchill, who does pretty much everything in regard to car sales, is not behind the desk just now. He’s backed up by Bob Scherer, the owner. Overhead costs have to be kept low in order for this to work in 2013. And Corey tells me he’s not exactly sure how they survived the dealer cull, which was particularly focused on stand-alone dealers like them.
There was a Buick-Pontiac-GMC dealership in Eugene, which shut down in 2010, due to a lack of sales. The West Coast, and especially a place like Eugene, has not been kind to GM sales for quite a while. But Springfield Buick hangs on.
There’s Corey, discussing a likely sale with a customer. What do you mean, there are no new LeSabres available?
If he closes it, it will be one of four to five new cars Springfield Buick sells per month. Used car sales average several times more than that.
The one-car showroom has large photos up on the walls depicting the history of Buick and Springfield Buick. They’re way more interesting than the Enclave sitting there. Now that’s how dealerships have changed since I was a kid. I used to spend almost every Saturday at the Chevrolet-Buick-Cadillac store in Iowa City, and it was the cars I came to look at at. My favorite car to sit in was the ’63 Riviera, and I gave both the front and rear bucket seats a thorough workout while perusing every detail of the heavy-stock Cadillac brochures in my lap.
Of course, the cars really were more interesting then, and I say that not just because I was a kid. The Enclave just can’t compete with a Roadmaster convertible.
I’d love to slide behind the big red leather interior of that one right now. They should have kept it in the showroom forever.
On my many trips across Nebraska in the early seventies, taking the old two lane highways instead of I-80, I noticed a Chrysler-Plymouth dealer with some decidedly less-than current cars in the showroom, right there on the main drag in Holdrege or maybe some other small town. The owner had presciently selected one new car to not sell each year, starting in the mid-fifties. The showroom had turned into a museum, and he picked the very cream of the crop of each year’s cars to keep; or more likely ordered them. The plain-old new cars for sale were all relegated to the outdoors.
I can’t remember them all, but the most memorable was a ’61 Chrysler 300G with the optional cross-ram intake 413. Never seen one before, or after; but it was unforgettable. And there was a 1967 Hemi GTX. And so on. I’m sure the owner made some collector very happy when he died; or more like made his heirs happy. Some dozen cars or so, one from each year, all “new”, with just a couple of miles on the odometer. Talk about a time capsule. But let’s get back to Springfield Buick.
The selection here is a bit less exotic. No need to actually talk about 2013 Buicks today, or let’s just say I didn’t stop to look at them. But Corey tells me he has seen an uptick in younger customers in the past couple of years, which makes him happy. His goal is to get to a six cars per month average.
Here’s the rest of the new car inventory; looks like about ten cars in total back here, or two months’ worth.
The used car lot isn’t exactly large either, but the cars are “Certified”, not just “OK”.
Here’s the view from the back; maybe about twenty used cars in total. This really is a small operation, and utterly devoid of high pressure, big flags, banners, and other such stuff. Folks here know where to go for a pleasant experience, and where they’ll be treated right by the owner or Corey, as they have been for so many decades.
Here’s the service area; a bit slow today. I wonder what year was the best ever for Springfield Buick? 1965? 1977?
Someone wants to get their Pontiac serviced. Where else to go for that, nowadays?
There’s a genuine LeSabre, getting loving attention so that its owner won’t miss any doctor appointments.
I’m not sure how it’s being used now, but I’ll bet this was designed to be the new car prep area. Looks almost exactly like the one behind Towson Ford where I used to rub down the cars to make them shine before being handed over to their proud new owners.
Now I’m not getting paid for this plug, but if you’re thinking about a new Buick, head on over to Seventh and A Street in Springfield, because I’d really like to see them make it for another sixty-four years. One of these days, I might get the yen to just drop in and sit in the new car in the showroom. Need to bring back the Riviera, Buick!
PS: I’m leaving town today for a week, with only occasional internet access. The rest of the gang will keep things going, I’m sure. See you in March.