The owners of Boulevard Buick GMC celebrated the grand opening of their second auto dealership, now known as Boulevard Cadillac, the newest addition to the Signal Hill Auto Center. In many ways, the ceremony, attended by a crowd of Signal Hill city officials, business owners and community members on Aug. 21, represented a new beginning of economic growth, competition and new sales-tax revenue for the city.
“We went through a rough spell, for those of you who remember the economy and the car business in 2008, and we had some stores closing, and it was a scary time,” said Brad Willingham, who co-owns Boulevard Buick GMC and Cadillac with his father Jim Willingham and Ron Charron. “The City became very proactive, they got with us very early on, and we worked out a plan to make sure we kept these two beautiful buildings open for business.”
The family-owned business of more than 50 years purchased the dealership, once known as Coast Cadillac, in 2010 and recently relocated it from 3399 E. Willow St. in Long Beach to its new location at 2850 Cherry Ave. The new location puts the dealership in direct competition with Long Beach BMW and Mercedes Benz, providing more exposure to potential customers, Charron told the Signal Tribune.
“In our industry, being next to the competition always helps, especially in our case, being next to the best high-line franchises,” he said. During the ceremony, the owners unveiled Cadillac’s new XTS model, the auto manufacturer’s latest full-size luxury sedan. Charron said the dealership is also rolling out a smaller ATS model later this year that will go directly up against BMW’s 3 Series models.
He said that, although the Cadillac store has only been open for two months, the dealership’s sales volume has already increased by about 20 percent over the dealership’s normal sales average at the former location. “In July we finished with the fifth-largest Cadillac dealership volume in the 14 western states,” he said, adding that sales at Boulevard’s Buick dealer has so far stayed relatively flat over last year.
The new dealership also continues a long-held relationship between the business owners and Signal Hill. The partners had originally opened a Buick dealership in 1961 along Long Beach Boulevard, once considered the “car row” of Southern California, Charron said. When the City began plans to build the Blue Line light rail, Boulevard fled to Signal Hill in 1993, he said.
And then the recession came. The now gleaming Cadillac dealership was once vacant after Buick moved to take over the spot left by Jeep Chrysler, which had closed its doors due to its factory shutting down during Chrysler Group’s bankruptcy. Although the Chrysler franchise was eventually relocated to nearby Glenn E. Thomas Dodge, it was the Boulevard owners who stepped in to purchase the Cadillac dealership, which was going out of business at the time, and then move the business to Signal Hill to help fill the gap, said City Manager Ken Farfsing.
“We started to talk about what other opportunities were there, and that’s when we hit upon Cadillac…Cadillac was closing in the area, and we had an extra building, so we said, ‘let’s bring them in,’” Farfsing said. “It was a great working relationship between us, Boulevard and Cadillac…We took a bad recession and turned it into something good.”
Farfsing said auto dealerships are one of the city’s main sources of sales-tax revenue, adding that the city receives one percent of all car sales, which can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales-tax income per dealership each year. Cadillac is now the eighth auto dealership in Signal Hill.
Terry Rogers, president of the Signal Hill Chamber of Commerce and a local real-estate agent for Coldwell Banker, said the business community is highly supportive of the move. “They’re going to bring commerce, business and sales taxes,” she said. “They’re going to be centrally located now in the heart of the dealerships…so their exposure is going to be even more so than what it was at [Willow Street and Redondo Avenue], and we’re really happy to see them move to our city…We are a very strong business community and we support each other . . . Actually, I was a Cadillac owner and a Buick owner.”
Charron said investing in the dealership’s remodel, in addition to remodels to the Buick dealership showroom and the Boulevard Collision Center, which the now defunct Signal Hill Redevelopment Agency helped to subsidize, should pay off in the next few years. He said all three operations have a workforce of about 145 employees, many who have been with the company for decades. “Our family is growing,” Charron said. “We’re proud of the staff we have . . . We take care of them, they take care of our customers, and it kind of works like a circle…This has been a good business decision for us.”