Grove City Record

Byers will end 40-year car drought in the city

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Matt Yerkes, president and founder of Quick Square Consulting, 3995 Broadway, stands in front of a brick wall uncovered in renovations of the former pharmacy. Painted sale prices for cars at the early Grove City car dealership next door range from $319 to $645. He holds a Grove City Record newspaper ad from one of the city's long-closed new car dealerships.
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By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Grove City Council approved plans in September for a new Byers Auto dealership to be built just off Interstate 71.

But history shows Grove City's Town Center is where local residents used to buy their new automobiles.

Dating to the early 1920s, Grove City has been home to five new-car dealerships. The Byers dealership, to be located on North Meadows Drive near London-Groveport Road and its new I-71 interchange, will make six, but it will be the first new car dealership in the city since the 1970s.

Prior to Byers, the most recent dealership was Harley Motors, which used to be located at what is now 3940 Broadway.

"That's over by where the (Grove City Bowling Lanes) is now," said Jim Hale, former executive director of the Grove City Area Visitors & Convention Bureau and former Grove City Record editor who now is involved with the Southwest Franklin County Historical Society. "These (address) numbers today don't correspond. ... There's a daycare center there now."

Harley Motor Sales originally sold Ford products and then switched to Dodge before closing in the mid-1970s.

Resident Paul Jacobs said he bought a 1967 or 1968 Dodge Dart from Harley Motors, and his father-in-law Herman Grossman bought a number of vehicles over the years from there as well.

"That was my third car out," Jacobs said. "My wife's brother bought a car from him around the same time."

Jacobs said the dealership was right next to Fred Kessler's Marathon gas station. He said he remembers owner John Harley as large man for his age, standing well over 6-feet-2, with a deep voice and pleasant to be around.

"He was very dominant presence," Jacobs said. "He always had on a white shirt and tie."

Grove City also had Downtown dealerships that sold Chevrolet, Lincoln and Studebaker vehicles, according to local history buffs.

The first dealership in Grove City is believed to have had its showroom at the old Mulzer Garage, 3989 Broadway where the vacant Grove City Hardware stands now.

Next door, Matt Yerkes, president and founder of Quick Square Consulting at 3995 Broadway -- formerly the home of Kenstar Pharmacy -- uncovered prices for the dealership painted on a brick wall, found beneath a plaster wall he removed during renovations.

The listed prices range from $319 to $645, and Quick Square incorporated the old advertisements in the design of its new building.

"It's one of my stopping points on my tours," Yerkes said. "There were a couple of neat things we found tearing into this building."

Originally, according to information from a Visitors' Bureau brochure, Yerkes' building was built in 1915 by Henry J. Meyer as a garage and dance hall.

Later, Leslie G. Mulzer ran a Ford and Lincoln agency out of it, reported to be the largest Ford dealership in Franklin County, before Carl W. Goldhart and Ray Henry took over the business.

An elevator took vehicles up to the second floor where the mechanics worked on them.

"The showroom was downstairs, and the lift was in the back of the building," Hale said. "They were very successful ... right up until the Depression."

The agency prospered, Hale said, but it went under in 1929, at the start of the Great Depression.

Soon after, Goldhart was hired by the Village Council to be Grove City's first motorcycle police officer, and charged with enforcing the 25 mph speed limit.

A Studebaker dealership also was located in the Town Center, Hale said. Its showroom stood in the building where today the Garden Cafe on Broadway, 4057 Broadway, and Total Platinum Salon, 4063 Broadway, are located.

Another Chevrolet dealership opened sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s. However, Hale said, the bureau and historical society have not been able to determine its location.

Much of the information about these dealerships comes from stories people tell and old newspaper clippings, Hale said. It's challenging because the businesses seemed to have relied mostly on word-of-mouth to drum up business.

"Apparently these dealerships did not advertise very much at all," Hale said. "The lack of advertising indicates it must have been pretty good business."

Hale said the historical society is always looking for new information and details.

"We're just searching where we can," Hale said. "If somebody has a story to tell, that gives us direction -- anything we can use to keep that history -- we love it."

Hale can be contacted at grovecityhistory@gmail.com.

Byers is expected to open sometime next year on its new 12.3-acre site in Grove City. Plans call for a two-story building of about 33,000 square feet for a showroom, service department, body shop and offices and a parking lot with 387 spaces.

Brent Rosenthal, an attorney representing the Byers family, told council members in September that the building is the first phase of development planned for the property. It could accommodate two additional dealerships in the future, as well as two office buildings on the northern part of the site.

"We want to be here for a long, long time," Rosenthal said.

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