While the Detroit automaker celebrates its 100th anniversary, local dealer its showroom and service area.
The dealership in northern Cheshire will start a major renovation project this spring that's expected to last about seven months. "It's time for something new," Marianne Jaffe said, reflecting upon the dealership she and her husband Richard have owned for 36 years. "An era has passed."
"It's going to involve knocking down the front showroom and building a brand new one," explained General Manager Jason Vianese. The renovations will include a larger customer lounge, expanded parts store, and a new detailing area.
Vianese has witnessed numerous changes in both vehicles and the highly competitive auto business since joining Richard Chevrolet in 1998 and coming up through the ranks of its service, sales, used car, and finance departments.
"You definitely have a lot more creature comforts inside," Vianese said, enumerating new technologies such as hands-free Bluetooth phone connectivity, mp3 players and GPS navigation and security features. "If it's stolen," Vianese explained, "they have the ability to slow the vehicle down so the police can apprehend the thief in a safe way, not in a high speed chase."
Vianese attributed many changes in automobiles to the use of multiple computers, which began gaining importance in the 1990s. "That's why you don't call people who work on them mechanics any more – they're technicians, which is what you have to be these days. "
The Jaffes established Richard Chevrolet in 1975, succeeding decades of earlier car dealerships on six acres of farmland once owned by the DeVylder family.
Each business was named after an owner or family member – Ray, Marvin, Terry, and now Richard. The dealership has 60 full-time employees, with up to 300-400 vehicles on the sales lot.
While the Jaffes' renovation plans focus on the future, they recently helped the Detroit automaker celebrate its 100th birthday by turning the clock back for a day. On October 15, they teamed up with Connecticut Classic Chevy, for a cruise from Southington to the Route 10 dealership at 1405 Highland Ave.
As 1950's and 60s music drifted across the parking lot, aficionados inspected classic, muscle, and hot-rod Chevrolets. Some of the classic cars harkened back to an era when starting the vehicle meant cranking the engine by hand, not pressing the ignition button of an electric Volt.
"The most hilarious thing was that we rolled the price of hot dogs back to fifty cents," said Marianne Jaffe. "The line was amazing."
The car club also brought back the past by replacing all of the new cars in front of the dealership's familiar façade with vintage vehicles, then snapping a photograph, creating an illusion of what the dealership might have looked like decades ago.
A key element in the illusion was the dealership's sign, whose fate has been a matter of speculation as news of the impending renovation has spread.
"A few people asked that," Vianese chuckled. "We may hang it in the service area on the wall. It's kind of retro – it's cool."
Jaffe agreed. "It's an icon."