Cadillac Dealer Branches Out

December 02, 1993|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Staff Writer

Chesapeake Cadillac, a North Charles Street fixture that has served Maryland's rich and famous since the early days of the Great Depression, is opening a dealership in Cockeysville.

But that doesn't necessarily mean that the art deco showroom where Glenn L. Martin, T. Rowe Price, Frank Robinson, Dorothy Lamour and Dr. Milton Eisenhower bought cars will close any time soon, according to Jeffrey F. Ballan, Chesapeake's president.

He said the company plans to retain the city site and operate it as a satellite of the modern sales-and-service facility that is scheduled to open on York Road in April.

"We will stay open here at least until the end of 1994," Mr. Ballan said of the city dealership, officially called the New Chesapeake Cadillac-Jaguar.

After that, the showroom's fate is less certain. Mr. Ballan said the city dealership has many longtime customers who like having their cars serviced near their downtown offices.

But the future of the city dealership, he said, will rest on whether it is economically viable.

If things go as planned, he said: "It will be a win-win situation for everybody. It's a win for the city, and it's a win for the county, where we will be hiring more people."

Chesapeake employs about 65 sales and service people at its Charles Street location. Mr. Ballan said that most of the employees will move to the Cockeysville location and that the company would hire about 25 additional people.

The opening of a suburban dealership, he said, is designed to boost Chesapeake's sales. Sales are expected to double after the new showroom opens, with 80 percent of overall business expected to be generated by the York Road dealership.

When it opened, Chesapeake was strategically located to tap Baltimore's affluent neighborhoods. Eddie Rickenbacker, the World War I flying ace, played a role in site selection.

Matthew Fenton, who owned Chesapeake from 1966 to 1986, said that Rickenbacker, who worked for Cadillac Motor Car Co., "went up in a plane, and when he looked down on the intersection of Charles and University [Parkway], he said, 'You want to be as close to this area as possible.' "

el,.5l Chesapeake originally sold Cadillacs and the LaSalle, a less-expensive car that Mr. Fenton referred to as "the poor man's Cadillac." LaSalle, made by Cadillac, was discontinued after World War II.

At one time, the dealership also sold Oldsmobiles, but that line was dropped in 1964. The dealership added Jaguar in 1983, which it still sells.

Cadillac, a division of General Motors Corp., has been pushing the owners of Chesapeake to move to the suburbs -- something that most auto dealerships did in the 1960s and '70s.

In addition to being hindered by the inefficiencies of a three-story building, Chesapeake has found itself isolated from other car dealerships.

Mr. Ballan noted that dealers like to locate in clusters to take advantage of shoppers' desire to visit several dealerships in one day.

At its new site, Chesapeake will be part of an uninterrupted stretch of new-car outlets that include Timonium Chrysler, Plymouth, Jeep Eagle; Timonium Dodge; and Frankel Acura. Across the street is Bill Kidd's Volvo-Toyota dealership.

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