New London - Competition at the city's auto-dealer corner just turned up a notch.
Whaling City Motors, which had been deprived of a spot at the corner of Colman and Broad streets for more than two decades as competitors such as M.J. Sullivan and Girard gained more prominence, began a new era Tuesday by knocking down the former Meineke Car Care Center. The move will allow Whaling City to gain a foothold at the heavily traveled corner, giving the auto dealership a stronger presence and more space for new and used cars and trucks.
"It's going to look so much better," said Romana Strochlitz Primus, president of the auto dealership, as an excavator from Waterford-based Barberi Brothers Demolition crunched away at the Meineke facade.
It took only about two hours to bring down the Meineke building, which had been located at the corner of Broad and Colman since 1979.
Primus' father, Sigmund Strochlitz, had begun selling cars downtown on Main Street (now known as Eugene O'Neill Drive) in 1957, and moved the Whaling City dealership to its present location in 1967. Strochlitz was one of the first car dealers to recognize the Colman Street-Broad Street intersection as a great location, and others followed, making the corner today one of the top two in terms of sales throughout Connecticut, according to Chuck Primus, Whaling City's vice president.
But Strochlitz, who died in 2006, had one pet project that he never saw to completion: the acquisition of the Meineke property that would give Whaling City Motors more visibility from Colman Street.
"My dad really wanted this corner for years," Romana Primus said. "It's nice to complete his vision."
The former Meineke location, on one third of an acre, will allow Whaling City Motors to display about 35 new and used vehicles. The dealership sells Ford, Lincoln and Mazda cars and trucks.
Whaling City Motors currently has about 250 vehicles on two and a half acres. It just completed a renovation of its Mazda operation last year, and will soon begin work creating a new area to separate the Ford and Lincoln brands.
Denis Wickham, who owns the New London Meineke franchise along with others in Groton and Norwich, said he finally agreed to offer his prime corner location on a long-term lease to Whaling City Motors after finding a new location at 665 Broad St., in the former Midas car care center. The new location has six bays, versus the four at his previous spot, and it has a better waiting area for customers, he added.
Wickham said he converted a former 1950s gas station into the Meineke franchise, and it was a great location but always had limitations in terms of space.
"It's good for everybody," he said of his move and the decision to tear down the Meineke building to create a true auto-dealership corner. "This is the gateway to the city, and this (Meineke) was in the way, really."