Bottom Line: Key Auto Group in the driver’s seat after buying Team Nissan North dealership

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 8/31/2019 10:02:11 PM

The past few years have seen nearly all the family-owned car dealerships in the Upper Valley sold off to regional players as longtime owners retire and the glad-handing auto business is upended by pointing and clicking online.

Now, the regional players are selling out, too — to bigger regional players.

Key Auto Group has purchased Team Nissan North in Lebanon, making the Portsmouth, N.H.-based Key Auto now the biggest owner of auto dealerships in the Upper Valley.

Renamed Key Nissan of Lebanon, the desirably located new and used car sales lot off Interstate 89’s Exit 18 follows Key Auto’s opening in June of a new Chevrolet dealership on Sykes Mountain Avenue in White River Junction and the purchase in January of the Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram franchise on Route 120 in Lebanon from Miller Auto Group.

“It’s a great dealership in a great location in a very, very strong market,” Brian Kenny, regional vice president of Key Auto Group, said of the deal.

The Lebanon Nissan distributorship had been owned by Manchester car dealer Victoria Marcinkevich, who bought the franchise from Johanna Cicotte’s Miller Auto Group in 2012. (Once the largest car seller in the Upper Valley, Cicotte’s Miller Auto now owns only the Volvo and Volkswagen dealership in Lebanon and recently dropped “Miller” from dealership’s name.)

Kenny said he is looking at boosting the inventory of Nissan vehicles on the Route 120 lot from about 110 new and 30 used to 200 new and 100 used in the coming months in addition to “changing the business model to conform with the rest of group,” which Kenny described as “upfront pricing, transparent transactions and completely customer-focused.”

Woody’s, we hardly knew ye

How bad is the retail slump in Hanover? How about a store closing even before it opened?

OK, that’s poetic license, but not much: Woody’s, one of the new retail shops that was advertised to open in the former Dartmouth Bookstore space, is not happening after all.

Woody’s, which billed itself as “an upscale, mountain-lifestyle store and mercantile featuring apparel, home goods, provisions, gifts and candy,” will not be occupying one of the new retail shops currently being constructed out of the former bookstore space, according Suzi Curtis, the Etna resident, sports apparel industry sales rep and retail consultant who had planned on opening the new store.

Curtis said the slow pace on the renovation of the South Main Street building forced her to scrap her plans because she didn’t know whether the space would be ready in time for critical fall sales season.

Curtis, via email, said she had expected to open Woody’s this summer “but because of construction delays my move-in and opening date are still unknown.”

“On Main Street in Hanover, September and October are even more important than the holidays when it comes to foot traffic,” she said. “With the opening date uncertain, it just didn’t make financial sense to take on inventory and store it with no place to see it.”

Jay Campion, owner of the building, acknowledged that the top-to-bottom renovation — which includes a new heating system — has been running “three to four weeks” behind schedule, which he said is mostly because contractors have been hard pressed for workers and having to spread their undermanned crews among various projects.

“The labor shortage is having a real impact,” he said.

Nonetheless, Campion said workers are in the home stretch and he expects the retail spaces to be ready this month for both apparel store J. McLaughlin and office spaces on the second floor for the Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business and completed by October for the combination bar/cafe/bookstore Still North Books.

Meanwhile, Campion said, he’s back to looking for another tenant to occupy the space that was originally slated for Woody’s.

Comings & goings

■ Speaking of the retail challenges in Hanover, another longtime store has bid adieu: boutique reseller The Pink Alligator has closed and is consolidating with its store in Glen Road Plaza in West Lebanon.

Pink Alligator owner Ally Weiner-Sawyer said that after 10 years in Hanover she decided not to renew her lease in the Nugget building and instead is focusing on the West Lebanon store, which is twice as large, comes with ample free parking — and lower rent to boot. Opened two years ago, the West Lebanon location will allow her to showcase a larger selection of couture, accept more consignment and make it easy for clients and customers to carry apparel between their car and the store, Weiner-Sawyer explained.

With card and stationery store That Little Spot of Red also closing last week, that now leaves the Nugget Building with three vacant prime retail spaces. In recent weeks, the word among downtown merchants has been persistent that a Dunkin’ will be going into the retail space facing South Main Street that was temporarily occupied by the Hood Museum, but Connecticut-based building owner Jeffrey Urstadt said that despite ongoing talks, “nothing has jelled yet.”

■People looking for a dry cleaner in the wake of Kleen’s shutdown earlier this summer now have another option: Jeff Peavey’s Country Cobbler shoe repair store on North Main Street in West Lebanon will now be a twice-a-week drop-off and pickup station for Cleary Cleaners of Rochester, N.H. Peavey said items dropped off on Monday can be picked up on Thursday after 3 p.m. (or Monday after 3 p.m. for items dropped off no later than Thursday). Peavey also reports that he is again offering leather-cleaning service — jackets, gloves, handbags — through a Canadian company. Expect a 10-day-to-two-week turnaround time on leather items, Peavey said.

Crossroads Bar & Grill in South Royalton, a favorite pub and music spot among town residents and Vermont Law School students and praised for such house specialties as its grilled mushroom toast and sweet chili duck wings, has closed, according to chef-owner Bennett Zapletal. The Lebanon native and New England Culinary Institute grad, who bought Crossroads from Scott Durkee in 2015, wrote on Crossroads’ Facebook page that unspecified “recent chain of events” forced him to shut down. “I’m not sure what the future holds for this place, but I’d like to think it will carry on,” he wrote. Zapletal could not be reached for comment.

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.




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