Many years ago, when you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in south Scottsdale who believed any of its car dealers would ever not be there, I learned from a friend how to shop along Scottsdale’s Motor Mile.
Without having to fend off hovering salespeople, even.
Hop on a bicycle, he said. And when he did that down McDowell Road, he would stop here and there to leisurely look over cars that caught his eye.
Whenever he stopped at a particular lot, he said the salespeople just glared at him from inside their air-conditioned sales building, probably thinking he didn’t have enough money to own a car. In any case, he said he was never approached.
Try that at an auto mall that hugs a freeway.
But Scottsdale’s neighborhood auto row has been slowly shrinking. Each of three departing dealerships has been taking big-ticket-item sales-tax revenue with it to Mesa and Chandler.
The fourth one to leave isn’t going anywhere. It closed.
Dozens of employees — including the service writer who’s taken care of my mother’s 1994 Chevy Corsica since it was new — won’t be working there any more.
Only a little more than a year ago, Bill Heard Chevrolet, which had taken over the old Ray Korte Chevrolet dealership at Scottsdale and McDowell roads, moved its car sales to a new building at the southwest corner of McDowell and Pima Road, just west of Loop 101.
Suddenly I find myself feeling that I’m going to miss the banks of bright lights that illuminated the rows and rows of glimmering vehicles that shined all night into my window.
The official reasons given to Tribune reporters Ed Taylor and Brian Powell for Heard’s closing — high gas prices and a sagging pickup-truck market — are more than plausible.
Chevrolet relies heavily on sales of trucks and SUVs. How many times have you actually seen a Chevy commercial hawking a sedan?
And Heard owns several other dealerships nationwide, all of which will remain operating, the chain told the Tribune. Fazoli’s is pulling out of the Valley, too, but no one is saying that is heralding the end of available Italian food locally.
Nonetheless, people often respond to what they see and feel at least as much as to what they read and learn about.
And so, for as long as it remains there along Loop 101, fully functional and with a fresh coat of paint but quiet as a graveyard, Bill Heard Chevrolet is going to stand for how the reanimation of south Scottsdale still remains a question mark.
On the one hand, McDowell has seen great improvement recently. New retail outlets, from interiors to tires, have gone up.
The 3 Palms hotel went from the kind of place you’d see at a freeway exit on the edge of town to a seriously remodeled boutique mini-resort along the Indian Bend Wash greenbelt.
SkySong, the high-tech/research facility at the old Los Arcos Mall site, will never attract architects from around the world to head to Scottsdale to study its ho-hum design, but even though its signature art piece has yet to unfurl over it, it remains ahead of schedule.
Even the General Dynamics plant redid all the landscaping on its McDowell frontage, replacing a vast lawn with gravel and attractive xeriscaping.
Yet south Scottsdale is struggling to pull its economic weight.
The national economy has quite a bit to do with that.
Harold Stewart, the city’s acting economic-vitality general manager, said Thursday that south Scottsdale’s revitalization goes beyond the car dealers, which are dealing with factors beyond Scottsdale.
“Most car-dealer decisions are based on a corporate strategy, not (one based on) 'I don’t want to be in Scottsdale,’ ” Stewart said. “We’re long past the days when most dealers were local and you could go over there and talk to them.”
Stewart said he and other city officials will be trying to bring Motor Mile car dealers back to the discussion table to work on ways to keep them.
“We recognize the need to strengthen the identity of the area — something we’ve been doing slowly anyway — but it takes a while to change perception. It’s not the shopping area that it used to be when the mall was there.”
While the city’s politicians squabble over downtown building heights and relative attractiveness, they might think consider a change of pace:
Some folks in south Scottsdale wish they could see a few more buildings, even not-so-attractive ones.
They might definitely appreciate hearing their politicians outline how they plan to get some developers and some retail owners to sit down and talk about setting up shop in their neighborhood.
It’s not yet to the point where a man can’t ride his bike to go car-shopping any more, but do we need to wait that long?
Read Mark Scarp’s blog, Scarpsdale, at