Opinion

Editorial: Missing our auto dealers

City consultants have long been suggesting that Oak Harbor get rid of its downtown car dealers so the area can be revitalized.

Now, two of the three car dealers are gone. Frontier Chevrolet Pontiac closed last week, ending a 60-year run, which followed the demise of the Ford dealership about two years earlier.

Suddenly, Oak Harbor Motors, which sells Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep products, looks more like a historically significant business that we’ll fight to keep rather than an eyesore. It’s probably safe to say that most Oak Harbor residents would rather see our last downtown dealership remain, just to retain the service and link to the past.

Car lots aren’t the prettiest sight, but they’re part of America. It’s sad that last week ended GM’s long presence in town. No more Impalas or Malibus will be sold there. Oldtimers won’t be cruising past the new cars in the lot, remembering the proud day they drove away in a Corvair or Belvedere with that new-car smell. Just up the street, empty pavement sits where not so long ago, Galaxies, Fairlanes and Mustangs tempted car-loving islanders.

Oak Harbor’s two car dealers fell victim to the bad economy as well as changing economics, in which car sales are dominated by “mega-dealers” rather than small town business people who know many of their customers personally.

City officials need to focus on the two, large vacant lots in the downtown area. Vast areas of empty pavement do not a town make. The ultimate use of those lots depends primarily on the owners, but the city should do everything it can to make sure they’re developed. Introduce property owners to developers, let both meet with city planners, come up with something that will make Oak Harbor a more attractive, more vibrant, business center.

Hopefully we can keep our last downtown car dealer and turn the old lots into something better for the 21st century.

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