In a city where cruising and the car culture have deep roots, the love affair between people and their rides never seems to diminish. Whether it's low-riders, classic cruisers, exotics, pickups or tricked-out subcompacts, valley residents are, well, driven to drive.
But soaring gas prices are forcing a lot of folks to rethink their driving habits and car choices. At the same time, new car sales nationwide are slumping and even valley dealers report foot traffic is down. So opening a car dealership anywhere these days seems like a stretch.
The folks at CarMax don't think so, though. The Richmond, Va.,-based used car chain opens its new Modesto dealership at 4300 McHenry Ave. on Thursday. The 9.5-acre complex is just north of Pelandale and Claratina avenues, at the south end of auto row. The dealership will have 250 to 300 used cars. Three buildings provide nearly 46,000-square-foot of space. The national chain's Modesto outlet employs more than 90.
In the works for almost two years, CarMax occupies a site that formerly was home to a large lumber and home improvement store. It closed years ago and was followed by a variety of businesses, from an appliance outlet to a Christmas tree lot. At one time, the rear portion of the property was used as storage for recreational vehicles and trailers.
Denise Hinkson, the Modesto general manager, said her company's "no haggle, no hassle" approach is designed to put buyers at ease. She said the sales staff makes the same commission no matter what cars they sell, so there's no pressure to put buyers into more expensive vehicles.
Each used car comes with a five-day, money-back guarantee and limited 30-day warranty after passing a 125-point inspection. If buyers don't see what they want on the lot, the company has more than 20,000 vehicles online, any of which can be shipped to Modesto from another CarMax dealership.
As for the Fortune 500 company's decision to enter the Modesto area in such tough economic times, CarMax sees the car-crazed valley as a growing market. Like most businesses, it needs to expand to survive even in a downturn. Dumping a couple of hundred more used cars into the market could hurt other dealers, but they are confident they can compete and believe if CarMax draws more people to auto row, it will bring them more business. too.
And for people who love cars, it just means more tires to kick and more rides from which to pick -- like, say, a Porsche Cayman S. That works for me. For more information, call 241-5960 or go to www.carmax.com.
Elsewhere on the Business Beat:
What is it: Elegant Stitch, Inc. at 664 Bitritto, Suite A, in Modesto has recently moved from 2720 McHenry Ave. It's in the business park off Pentecost Avenue, near Kiernan Avenue. Phone, 529-6393. Web site, www.elegantstitch.com.
What it does: Elegant Stitch is a needlework store offering linens, silks, fibers, embellishments, ribbons, lace and needle arts from the industry's top designers. A variety of classes are held throughout the year.
Who runs it: Lois Mouriski is the owner. Elegant Stitch has been open for eight years. Hours are Tuesday through Friday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
What makes it special: Elegant Stitch is a one-stop shop for all needlework supplies. Online ordering is available.
What is it: Best RV Center at 5340 Taylor Court in Turlock. It's off Taylor Road near Highway 99. Phone, 800-920-9970. Web site, bestrv.com. Best RV opens May 31.
What it does: Best RV Center will sell travel trailers, fifth wheels and toy haulers. It will have a 5,000 square-foot parts department for all RV needs and a full-service RV wash. The major brands offered will include Coachmen RV, Rockwood, Attitude, Chateau and Cedar Creek.
Who runs it: Naiel Ammari is the owner. Ammari started in the RV business in 1997 with his first Best RV location at 1397 N. Main St. in Manteca. Hours at the new store will be 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week.
What makes it special: Best RV Center is a family-owned business that offers same-day delivery and takes custom orders.
COMPILED BY JILLIAN HANKS,
BEE NEWSROOM ASSISTANT