Last Mercury-only store exits new-car business
Photo credit: LARRY RIPPEL
Community Motor Co. in Canonsburg, Pa., resigned its Mercury franchise but will remain open selling and servicing used vehicles. Joe Mastrangioli, general manager of the family-owned business for the past 50 years, expects to stay busy even without new Mercurys on the lot. The 72-year-old is the store's only salesperson.
For Mastrangioli, the decision to give up the franchise comes after a rough summer and autumn for his family, which has been selling new Mercurys in this suburban Pittsburgh community for 57 years.
"It seems like this is the time," Mastrangioli said. "The new-car business has declined so badly, and the competition from the foreign car manufacturers has been so great."
Mastrangioli sold 102 new Mercurys in 2006, down from a peak of nearly 300 in 1989. That drop-off is shared with Mercury dealers around the country. Through November, Mercury sales are down 6.7 percent to 155,791 vehicles. It's a far cry from the brand's high point of 579,498 vehicles in 1978. With little new product in the pipeline, many dealers and industry analysts say Mercury could be killed in a few years.
Ford trims ranks
With Ford Motor's domestic-brand sales in decline, the automaker is trimming its dealership network, particularly in long-established metropolitan markets. In some cases, Ford is teaming with neighboring stores to buy out dealers who volunteer to leave. Mastrangioli declined to discuss the details of his exit but said Ford applied no pressure.
Instead, the decline in new-car sales, combined with a shaky economy and the ages of the operators, persuaded the family to resign the franchise. Mastrangioli's mother, Mary Mastrangioli, who is the dealer principal, is 92. She worked at the dealership daily until experiencing recent health prob-lems.
Community Motor will now concentrate on the used-car business, which has been its strength in recent years. Mastrangioli specializes in low-mileage program cars and sold just more than 300 used vehicles last year.
"Those program cars really saved us in terms of profitability," he said. The dealership generally has been profitable, with the exception of 2004 and 2005, when losses from a flood put it in the red.
The past five months have been stressful for the family. In August, Joe was hit by a motorcycle while crossing the road in front of the dealership. A few hours later, while Joe was undergoing tests in the emergency room, a driver trying to flee police lost control of a vehicle in front of the dealership and hit six cars on the lot, totaling three of them.
"That was a bad night," Mastrangioli recalled.
Later in the fall, Mary Mastrangioli was diagnosed with a minor form of cancer, requiring radiation treatment. Then in early December, she fell and broke her hip and had hip replacement surgery.
Joe Mastrangioli said his mother is recovering and plans to return to the store. Forgoing retirement runs in the family.
When people ask Joe about that, "I just make a joke and say when they carry me out the front door feet first," he said. "Unless I was restricted by health problems, as long as I was able, I never intend to retire. I enjoy working here."
The dealership runs lean. It has nine employees, including four family members. There are no sales specialists. Joe sells most of the vehicles, and his wife, Nancy, pitches in on the showroom floor. He expects his two sons eventually to take over.
"We do work hard, and we've enjoyed it over the years," Mastrangioli said. "We're often tired, and we don't eat our meals on time, but it's just part of our lives."
The Mercury resignation was official Dec. 11. Ford will buy back Community Motor's new cars. Mastrangioli said he's sad at the prospect of losing some of his longtime new-car customers. He has customers who have bought from his family since 1950.
Mastrangioli recalled selling to local celebrities over the years. He went to school and played in his high school band with '60s crooner Bobby Vinton. Mastrangioli said he sold Vinton his first car.
Last of rare breed
Ford had seven stand-alone Mercury dealerships as recently as the mid-1990s, a company spokeswoman said. But by 2000, all but Com-munity Motor were gone.
The stores were unusual because Ford typically grants the Mercury franchise in combination with the Lincoln brand. There are some Ford-Mercury stores, but Community Motor has never sold new Ford-brand vehicles. There were always other nearby Ford dealerships, Mastrangioli said.
The story of how Community Motor ended up a stand-alone Mercury franchise is a mystery. Mastrangioli doesn't know: His father, Joe Sr., started the dealership in 1950. The younger Joe took over in January 1958 at age 22 after his father died of a heart attack.
"At different times, through those 50 years that I've been here, they offered (the Lincoln franchise) to me and I turned it down, and then at times I asked for it and they turned me down," Mastrangioli said. "It just seems like we never got together on that." c
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