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Central Motors closes after sale falls through

November 13, 1998

Central MotorsBy JULIE E. GREENE / Staff Writer

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer




Central Motors of Hagerstown, until 1996 the oldest continuously run Dodge dealership in the nation, has closed.

Owner Mike Meagher said he closed Central Motors on Oct. 26 after a deal with a potential buyer fell through.

The buyer could still come up with the financing to reopen the dealership, but Meagher said he couldn't afford to keep it open and lose $100,000 a month.

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Central Motors operated a Mitsubishi dealership at 701 Frederick St. and an Isuzu dealership at 920 S. Potomac St. Both locations were leased.

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The dealership also sold used cars and had a parts and service department.

The Mitsubishi dealership moved from South Potomac Street last spring, making room for a CVS pharmacy now under construction at the corner of South Potomac Street and East Wilson Boulevard.

Meagher said Central Auto Body remains open. The manager of the auto body shop bought it when the Mitsubishi dealership moved to Frederick Street.

The John Stonebraker family opened Central Motors in 1914, making it the oldest continuously run Dodge dealership in the nation until Meagher swapped franchises with Hoffman Automotive in 1996.

Hoffman got Dodge and Central Motors began selling Mitsubishis and Isuzus. Meagher said the deal allowed him to pay off some debt.

Meagher said he doesn't regret trading franchises, but regrets operating Mitsubishi and Isuzu dealerships in Hagerstown.

Meagher said many people came in, looked around and said they wouldn't buy Japanese cars.

Toyotas have more name recognition and account for a larger market share, while Meagher said the vehicles he was selling have a smaller market share.

"We tried to dump money in there for two years," Meagher said. "I had to make a decision," he said.

Meagher said he has lost $500,000 in the last three to five years and closed the business with a $200,000 deficit.

Overall, Cypress, Calif.-based Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America Inc. is doing well, said spokesman Kim Custer.

So far this year sales are up 1 percent and the company is opening more dealerships, including two in suburban Washington, D.C., he said.

Looking back, Meagher said he should have sold the Dodge franchise and gone out of business, he said.

"Stores close and that's part of life and I should have made this decision three years ago," he said.

Meagher said the decision to trade franchises instead of closing was made with his heart, not his mind, because of the dealership's dedicated employees.

The dealership employed 40 people when it was with Dodge and about 18 after it became Mitsubishi and Isuzu, he said.

Former Central Motors customers can go to the Renn Kirby Mitsubishi or Francis Scott Key Isuzu in Frederick, Md., Meagher said.

Meagher bought Central Motors in November 1983 from longtime owner John E. "Jack" Stonebraker Jr.

Central Motors was one of the oldest car dealerships in Hagerstown, according to city directories at the Washington County Free Library.

When Central Motors first opened, it was Central Garage and Electric Supply Co. at 112 and 114 S. Potomac St., where the library now stands, said John Frye, a local historian. The buildings on the corner were torn down in the early 1960s to make room for the library.

Both Central Motors and Yingling Automotive & Carriage Works are listed in the 1915 Hagerstown directory. Yingling's later became the Hamilton dealership, said Frye, curator of the library's Western Maryland Room.

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