Driving north

BY EMILY LECOZ
Daily Journal

TUPELO – Several years ago, if you wanted car, you went to the one place in Tupelo that had them all – South Gloster Street.

Today, that's no longer the case.

Booming development in the Barnes Crossing area has lured several auto dealers to the city's new “in” spot, while slowly dismantling the powerful motor block that once dominated the southern stretch of Mississippi Highway 145.

“It's like the Gold Rush – people want the excitement and the build-up,” said Roger Ruff, marketing director for Carlock Automotive Group, which moved its Nissan dealership to North Gloster Street in November 2003.

Relocated dealerships, like Carlock's, cite boosts in sales since moving north. Ruff attributes it to increased traffic around the mall and its surrounding retail and dining establishments.

“We're more visible now,” he said. “People can see us when they do their shopping.”

South Gloster still rivals its northern counterpart in traffic volume – each handle about 35,000 vehicles in a two-day period.

The most recently available counts from 2003 show 20,000 vehicles cruising South Gloster between Main Street and Eason Boulevard in a 48-hour period. Between Eason and Palmetto Road, the count dips to 15,000 vehicles.

Further north, 14,000 cars and trucks drive on Gloster between U.S. 78 and Barnes Crossing Road in a 48-hour stretch. Barnes Crossing Road itself handles 22,000 vehicles every two days.

Staying put

“When Wal-Mart left the area, we thought we'd see less traffic, but it's still just as busy out here as ever,” said Larry McKay, general manager of Tupelo Auto Sales on South Gloster.

McKay said the dealership has no plans to move north. In fact, 2004 sales trumped those in previous years, a statistic that convinced owner Hoyt Sheffield to stay put.

“If it was dead here, we'd be looking to do something,” McKay said.

Tupelo Auto indeed plans to do something, though. It will soon build a new facility on the same lot to update its look, McKay said, but it will not leave South Gloster.

Dossett Big 4 also decided to stay put. Completed construction of the dealership's new House of Honda cinched the company's commitment to the southern part of town, where it has operated since 1968 selling Pontiac, Cadillac, GMC and Mitsubishi. Dealership president Rudy Dossett Jr. bought into Honda in 1980 and relegated it to a 1,200 square-foot building on the lot.

That changed last month, however, when Honda reopened in a 10,000 square-foot facility boasting a larger showroom and – for the first time – a parts and service department.

Sales have jumped by 50 percent since the facility opened its doors, said Honda manager Jimmy Joyner.

“When you look at the acreage that we would have to have and the prices that they're asking (at Barnes Crossing) – I'm not knocking that, we just made a commitment here about 10 years ago,” Dossett said last March.

Convenience also played a role in Dossett's decision to say, said general manager Rudy Dossett III. It didn't make sense to separate operations when, as it is, the company's 60 employees need golf carts to traverse the numerous lots, he said.

Step by step

Other dealerships have already separated their stock, moving north on Gloster one step at a time.

That's the case with Carlock, whose Toyota lot remains on South Gloster even after its Nissan stock moved north. Ruff said Carlock would like to bring Toyota to its new property, which has 10 acres of undeveloped land to grow into, but the auto manufacturer says no.

“Toyota wants to be out front, not behind the Nissan lot,” Ruff said. “But we're definitely going to move it from South Gloster. South Gloster is dead.”

Nissan didn't move without some prompting, however. Corporate headquarters asked the dealership to update its look and expand to accept new stock. As long as Carlock had to do that, Ruff said, the company decided to move at the same time.

Frankie Blackmon also had pressure from headquarters to upgrade his look. So, in 1999 he moved his Buick-Olds-Isuzu lot from North Gloster south of McCullough Boulevard – where Kia now sits – to North Gloster near the mall.

Unlike Carlock, however, Blackmon has no plans to move his Chevrolet or Mazda-Hyundai lots from South Gloster further north.

“When Highway 6 comes in on the south end of Gloster, that will funnel in more traffic to this side of town and, I imagine, more development on this side of town,” Blackmon said. “So, I don't have any plans to move anything for the next few years.”

Going all the way

Metro Ford isn't waiting for Highway 6 to do to South Gloster what the mall has done for the north. General manager Jim Jalette is moving his entire stock to the old Lowe's site on Barnes Crossing Road.

Work to convert the massive facility into a 84,000 square-foot showroom and service department should wrap up this spring. Behind it, a 16,000 square-foot Quick Lane is near completion.

“We were losing business to independent operations like Quick Lube and Wal-Mart,” said Darrell Orvis, Quick Lane field specialist, explaining Ford's decision to compete. “People spent $115 billion annually nationwide on quick lube-type businesses. We wanted a share.”

The Quick Lane will have eight bays to service any make or model of vehicle. Inside the main building, Ford's service department will have 60 bays for more major repairs.

And the showroom will have space to display 30-50 vehicles, said Jalette, who will have the biggest showroom and service shop in the state after the move.

“It will be a whole new type of buying experience for the client,” Jalette said. “No desks in the showroom, customer lounge, children's lounge, low pressure – it will be great.”

Jalette declined to specify his investment in the project but revealed that it was “in the millions.” He expects to recoup his investment within five years.

Contact Emily LeCoz at 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com