By Michael Roknick
Herald Business Editor
As fashion models like to say, the newly remodeled Mel Grata Chevrolet dealership “has got the look.’’
The Hermitage dealership recently completed a total makeover and addition which transformed the building, replacing a small, dark interior showroom with a massive, bright display area featuring tall ceilings and lots of glass. It is Chevrolet’s latest design and allows auto shoppers more elbow room.
“You’re no longer going to see gas stations converted to auto dealers anymore,’’ said Mel Grata, president of the local dealership. “This is as modern of a design as you will see anywhere in the country.’’
After demolishing 4,000 square feet of the old dealership along East State Street, Grata erected 12,000 square feet to create a new auto store with more creature comforts. Among the features are a service area where customers can drive inside the building and immediately walk into a service area that offers complimentary coffee.
“Everything done here was designed to put the customer first,’’ Grata said.
While the spacious showroom could add loads of vehicles, stuffing as many cars, SUVs and trucks as possible into a dealership’s interior is now out of style.
“There’s been a big shift in consumer attitudes,’’ Grata said.
Instead of more, more, more when it comes to a dealership’s interior, customers now want to feel relaxed and at ease when choosing a vehicle. It’s for that reason the remodeled dealership has open sales offices versus the old closed-in booths and cramped offices.
“This is a completely non-confrontational environment,’’ Grata said.
Completion of the Chevrolet dealership is the latest part of a $5 million master improvement plan for Grata. The adjacent Mel Grata Toyota Scion dealership had its major overhaul completed last year with the construction of a new 8,000-square-foot building. The last piece of the puzzle for the immediate area will be the demolition this spring of the old Toyota Scion building that will make room for much-needed space to house vehicle inventory.
Between the two dealerships, around 300 new cars will be housed on the site along with another 150 used vehicles.
But Grata said he will be establishing a new used car dealership on North Hermitage Road by summer. The former Garrett school bus building and property in Hermitage was purchased by Grata’s main construction contractor, Joe Giordano, who will remodel the building to house the dealership. Grata said he will lease the building from Giordano and operate the used car dealership as a satellite for his existing businesses.
Grata will continue to sell used vehicles at his existing site.
“About the only thing you won’t see at the North Hermitage Road location are vehicles which have undergone the used certification process and are required to be sold at the respective dealership,’’ Grata said.
In addition to housing around 150 used cars at the North Hermitage Road location, Grata said it will house the Internet vehicle sales side of his business.
Starting out in Hermitage in 1985 with 55 employees, Grata now employs a total of 82 at both dealerships.
As he talked about the master plan for his business, Grata acknowledged this is a huge step for him.
“But in the grand scheme of things, this will be a facility that will serve us, our customers and employees for a long time,’’ he said.