Santa Monica Chevrolet – Buick: Hiding In Plain Sight

Posted: May 2, 2011 in Buick, Chevrolet, General Motors
Tags: , , , ,

I’ve been on a mission for several months now, trying to find the location of the only Buick store from the 310 in Santa Monica to the 213 of Downtown Los Angeles.  I finally found it and it never actually moved!

Here’s the back story: Several months ago, Santa Monica Chevrolet Buick Oldsmobile suddenly became Santa Monica Infiniti.  A big banner went up over the store’s front door, all GM vehicles disappeared from the showroom and pre-owned Infiniti vehicles populated the few parking spaces in front.

I thought this was a good move as Nissan’s luxury division needed a presence on the West Side since the Beverly Hills store disappeared several years earlier.  If you lived in Metro LA,  you had to drive to Miller Infiniti in Van Nuys to shop and get service for an Infiniti.  That fact alone was hurting sales as no one voluntarily drives to The Valley from the “other side” of the Santa Monica Mountains unless it’s for work  or to visit your family.

I also thought the size of the dealership fitted the Infiniti brand.  The location on the north west corner of Santa Monica Boulevard at South Centinela Ave. was always embarrassingly small for a Chevrolet-Buick (and long defunct Oldsmobile) dealer.  There was barely any room for big trucks and SUVs let alone the few Chevy Aveos that used to show up in the one row parking lot in front. There were only a few service bays and the roof couldn’t hold much inventory.

However, for a relatively low-volume brand like Infiniti, it made sense. The building was there as were the necessary service bays, so up front capital cost was low.  And Infiniti was finally represented on the West Side again.

I went online to find out what happened to the Santa Monica Chevrolet-Buick dealership.  Buick’s dealer locator still gave the same address; but I thought it just hadn’t be updated yet. However, as recently as couple weeks ago, the website still showed the old location.

I drive past this address a few times a month. Each time I drive by, all I see is evidence of an Infiniti dealership. In fact, the original big banner came down and was replaced by a large Infiniti logo over the showroom door. The top of the building still had signage in the form of the old, faded badges for Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Buick and I noticed the GM service sign on the service entrance tombstone.  I thought those were just vestiges of the old dealer.  I just assumed that eventually those logos would come down as the faded yellow building was repainted and upgraded. That didn’t happen.

Both websites for Chevy and Buick insisted that the dealership was still there.  Yet each time I drove by the location, I scoured the parking lot and service bays for signs of a GM dealership.  No luck — I just wasn’t looking hard enough.

The last time I drove by, I parked and got out of the car.   The only indication I saw of a GM presence were a few new Buicks and a Chevy Camaro parked in storage to the west side of the lot – no more than 12 – 16 vehicles in total.  Was this it?  Really?

The large make-shift bow tie hints at Chevrolet. Note the few new cars behind the sign. I see one Camaro there. The trucks and SUVs must be elsewhere.

I took a picture of the Chevrolet/GM sign by the service driveway.  I took pictures of the building and the used cars in front. Yes, there it was, the most pathetic, lonely, GM dealer I’ve ever seen.  No big signs or balloons  here.

The reason they left the faded logos on top of the snow cone stucco and glass building was because, apparently, if you looked hard enough and wanted to buy a Chevy or Buick, someone inside could help you.   Don’t plan on strolling through the lot looking at window stickers and comparing colors.  Not at this dealer.  I hope there is more inventory than the sad sack bakers dozen shoved off to the side.

Faded GM badges, including Olds which was discontinued in 2004. Note the big Infiniti badge above the main entrance.

I’m sure that Infiniti didn’t want their expensive luxury cars sharing showroom space with lowly GM brands, so maybe that was the deal with the devil the dealership made to merge the two GM brand stores with their newly-acquired Infiniti franchise. You can sell Chevy and Buick, just don’t put them inside the showroom.  Maybe there was a Corvette or Regal on the floor – I just didn’t see it.

The used cars parked in front were mostly from Infiniti. There was a Honda Civic and on the corner facing Centinela, there was a 2006 Chevy Silverado pickup truck waiting for someone to buy it.

After I’d snapped the photos below, I got back into my car and some smarmy salesman/manager/owner (I have no idea his position with the dealership) ran up to me just as I was driving away. He wanted to know why I was taking pictures. I told him I was curious.  He wanted to know what I was curious about. I said “I’m curious about the dealership.” He needed to know why again, so I explained I was looking for the Chevy-Buick store and wondered if it was still there, with Infiniti. He responded in the affirmative and I drove off.  All this happened while he was on his iPhone 4 talking to someone else.

I’m glad someone noticed; however, I’m pretty sure there wasn’t much business that Monday afternoon and when someone drove up and stood on the sidewalk taking pictures, it may have been the most exciting thing that happened that day.

Across the street, in place of a small auto body repair shop, was the service location for most GM brands.  I’d seen that location before, but concluded that it wasn’t the dealership because there was no showroom space and I only saw a few cars and mechanics working there.  What I didn’t realize is that the small shop was THE service location for the Chevy-Buick dealership – that’s so pathetic I felt sorry for GM.  It certainly shows how unpopular the GM became in L.A. over the past two decades.

That's it folks! That litttle corner service center is definitely labeled Santa Monica Group Chevrolet Buick. There is a Chevy bow tie in front, but no Buick badge in sight.

So just in case you wanted to test drive a new Buick Regal or check out a Corvette, the Santa Monica Chevrolet Buick dealership still exists and might be able to help you find a car. It’s there; just hiding in plain sight.

  1. Tom says:

    I’d bet the former BMW dealerships on Wilshire in Beverly Hills are available at a decent price..

    • Todd Bianco says:

      Oh, that dealership looks big compared to this one…. plus I bet the rent is still higher in BH than this postage stamp lot on the east edge of Santa Monica. I doubt BH would look favorably on a triple-brand dealership like this one. I’m also willing to bet that the NIMBY residents to the north of the old BMW dealership will scream if any new noise is generated.

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