The Harlem section of New York City, best known as the home of the Apollo Theater and Bill Clinton's post-presidential office, now boasts its first new-vehicle dealerships in four decades.
Although the two stores opened in February, they held a ribbon-cutting celebration Friday, June 2. They are Potamkin Cadillac-Hummer, owned by Planet Automotive Group of Coral Gables, Fla.; and Chevrolet-Saturn of Harlem, owned by Otis Thornton. Planet Automotive built both dealerships, with General Motors' participation.
The $60 million project is in an area of Manhattan that businesses had long shunned. GM research indicates that the last auto dealership left Harlem at least 40 years ago, GM spokeswoman Kathleen Hamilton says.
But Alan Potamkin, who co-chairs Planet Automotive with his brother Robert, says property values in Harlem are booming. And he estimates that 350,000 vehicles pass the new dealership every day. Many of those commuters live in affluent areas of Westchester County, N.Y., and Connecticut, he says.
Both factors make the dealership site a good business choice, Potamkin told Automotive News. "Harlem came into its own long before people outside of the market recognized it," says Potamkin, 57. "People don't have an understanding of Harlem. They think of it as the Harlem of the 1960s. It's a spectacular growth area. "
Potamkin says he expects the Harlem Cadillac-Hummer dealership to sell 1,200 to 1,500 new vehicles and 1,800 used vehicles over the next year. Planet Automotive operates six other GM franchises on Manhattan's west side.
Potamkin pegs his company's investment in the site at more than $30 million. GM is an investor as well as a tenant. GM built the Chevrolet-Saturn dealership on property it leases from the Potamkins. Thornton is a partner in the dealership and over time can buy out GM's interest under its minority dealer program.
Thornton, 55, is black. He owns a Buick-Pontiac-GMC dealership in East Brunswick, N.J. Thornton would not say how many vehicles he expects to sell at the Harlem store but says business has improved every month.
"We're on the cutting edge of history," Thornton says. "This is a bold step on GM's part."
Both dealerships have five levels, including rooftop parking. They share a customer parking area. The Cadillac-Hummer store has an outdoor lot that accommodates 150 used vehicles.
Planet Automotive ranks No. 14 on the Automotive News list of the top 100 dealership groups in the United States with 28,503 new vehicles sold retail in 2005. It reported group revenues of nearly $1.31 billion last year.
Thornton's company ranks No. 28 on Black Enterprise magazine's list of the 100 largest black-owned dealership groups. The company had 2005 revenues of about $85.8 million.
You may e-mail Arlena Sawyers at [email protected]