New Chevrolet Dealership Coming to White River Junction

Valley News Business Writer
Sunday, March 18, 2018

White River Junction — A Portsmouth automotive group is getting ready to build a Chevrolet dealership on Sykes Mountain Avenue in White River Junction, the latest to join a cluster of auto dealers along that corridor, and shift a significant portion of the local auto sales sector to the Vermont side of the river.

Key Auto Group, owner of 11 automobile dealerships in New Hampshire, will break ground this spring on a $4.8 million structure that will include an auto repair center and display lot with space for 338 vehicles.

The new Chevrolet franchise is expected to be open by December, said Anthony DiLorenzo, owner of the Portsmouth-based Key Auto. It will be the fifth separately owned dealership lining Sykes Mountain Avenue, joining Gateway Ford, White River Toyota, White River Hyundai and Prime Subaru.

DiLorenzo’s company will build the dealership on land east of where Norwich’s Prime Subaru is building its new auto dealership at the site previously occupied by bowling alley Upper Valley Lanes and Games. Prime Subaru is targeting a July 1 opening date.

The two-story dealership will consist of a 24,900-square-foot building and is expected to employ about 35 people, according to site plans filed with Hartford’s planning and zoning office.

The heart of the Upper Valley has been without a Chevrolet dealership since Auto Miller Group closed its Chevrolet and Cadillac dealership on Route 120 in Lebanon in 2015 and handed the franchise back to GM to pave the way for the sale of the 6-acre lot to Dartmouth Coach for its new bus depot.

“When the Chevrolet dealership closed, GM put out requests for proposals in the market, so we responded and they awarded us the franchise,” DiLorenzo said.

The nearest Chevrolet dealerships are in Newport, N.H., Wells River, Ludlow, Rutland and Franklin, N.H.

DiLorenzo said at one point he had scouted for land in Lebanon for a new dealership but “we couldn’t find anything that fit our needs. You need at least five or six acres in my opinion.”

Although businesses on the Vermont side of the river have long complained that they are at a disadvantage because it’s hard to compete against retailers in New Hampshire, where there is no sales tax, purchasers of vehicles pay taxes to the state in which the vehicle is registered. Buyers from New Hampshire therefore are not penalized if they buy a car from one of the dealerships along Sykes Mountain Avenue.

The land upon which Key Auto will build its dealership was acquired about $1.6 million from Valley Land Corp., a real estate holding and land-leasing company that was formed by the late Frank Gilman but which has gradually been liquidating its real estate portfolio.

Valley Land previously had struck a deal to sell the 65-acre parcel to Green Mountain Economic Development Corp. for $1.55 million in 2015. GMED had planned to build a light industrial park and “incubator space” at the site. But the plans fell through after GMED was unable to secure tenants for the project, and Valley Land Corp. put the parcel back on the market.

Reginald Jones, president of Valley Land Corp., said the sale of the lot to Key Auto marks the last of the company’s commercially zoned real estate holdings.

Jones said proceeds from the real estate sale will go to the Frank M. and Olive F. Gilman Foundation, which provides college scholarships to high school students from Windsor and Orange counties in Vermont and from Grafton County in New Hampshire.

The Gilman foundation had a total of $39.7 million in assets at the end of 2016, according to the most recent year its tax filings are available. The foundation paid out $1.95 million in educational assistance that year, the tax filing shows.

Key Auto received approval from the Hartford Planning and Zoning Department to subdivide the approximately 65-acre parcel into three lots: an 8.2-acre lot for the Chevrolet dealership along with a smaller 5.43-acre lot. Key Auto has set aside the remaining 51 acres.

“We have room for another car dealership if one becomes available,” DiLorenzo said about the smaller subdivision lot. “We’re uncertain what we’ll do with the (51-acre) lot in the rear.”

The past 18 months have seen a major shift among Upper Valley auto dealerships as longtime owners have retired and sold their franchises — or acquired new ones.

It began in 2016 when Rick McLeay sold his Norwich Subaru dealership, The Car Store, to Massachusetts-based Prime Motor Group, which then took over McLeay’s plan to move the dealership to the site of the former bowling alley on Sykes Mountain Avenue.

A few months later, Kurt Gerrish sold Gerrish Honda on Miracle Mile in Lebanon to Gengras Motor Cars of Connecticut, which has kept the Gerrish Honda name on the dealership.

Then, in early 2017, McLeay returned to the business by buying the Hyundai dealership on Sykes Mountain Avenue from Gateway Motors owners Charlie and Allen Hall, who retained ownership of the Ford-Lincoln dealership.

Finally, last October, Flanders and Patch Ford owner Tom Thayer retired and sold his dealership to St. J Auto of St. Johnsbury, Vt., which changed the name to Lebanon Ford.

Key Auto’s DiLorenzo started in the business as a car salesman in Portsmouth in 1986, before opening a used car dealership in Rochester, N.H., in 1991 and forming Key Auto Group in 1995.

In addition to owning six collision repair centers in New Hampshire, DiLorenzo also has been involved in commercial real estate development in Portsmouth.

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