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New London - The newly renovated Whaling City Ford Lincoln Mercury Mazda dealership at the corner of Broad and Colman streets has been a four-year undertaking that included the demolition of a building, the acquisition or lease of nearby properties and one small fire.
But Romana Primus, co-owner of the dealership with her husband, Chuck, said the many hours of planning have been worth it. The result is a modern facility that caters to their customers, she said, while providing the best environment possible for showing off the main attraction: cars, SUVs and trucks.
"You want your customers to feel really comfortable," Primus said during a tour of the property following a ribbon-cutting ceremony last month.
The light-filled showroom features floors so sparkly clean that it looks like you could eat off of them. A member of the maintenance staff makes constant sweeps of the area to ensure a fresh, new look at all times.
"If we weren't constantly cleaning, people wouldn't feel comfortable," Primus explained.
Primus said the expanded dealership has been in the works since 2010 but had long been a dream of her father, the late Sigmund Strochlitz, who founded Whaling City Ford in 1957 and moved it to Broad Street a decade later. The dealership over the past few years acquired two lots in the back of the building while also agreeing to lease two parcels of land out front - one previously used by Enterprise car rental and another that housed a Meineke car care center - that finally brought Whaling City to the key intersection of Broad and Colman streets.
"We needed more space," Primus said. "Now we have the whole block."
The increased space has allowed the dealership, which acquired the Lincoln, Mercury and Mazda franchises in 2008, to boost its inventory. Anywhere from 200 to 300 vehicles can be found on site at any one time.
"We can pretty much sell from stock," Primus said.
In the past year, she added, an increase in Lincoln inventory has been pronounced as luxury models have made a comeback.
"I'm very excited about Lincoln," she said. "They're building vehicles from the ground up, and they're obsessed with quality - and it shows."
The same can be said for Primus, who decided to design the dealership with customers in mind. One of the results is a double waiting area near the service department: one featuring a television and another, quieter space where people are encouraged to bring their laptops and tablets to do work while using free WiFi.
The dealership also includes different showrooms that flow seamlessly into one another. The parts department, which had been a warren of quirky spaces, also was updated and organized.
But Whaling City still takes pride in its history, which can be seen in the many old photographs and newspaper articles that dot the walls.
During last month's ribbon-cutting ceremony, Primus recalled that her father first rescued a failing Ford dealership on Long Island, which inspired executives to offer him Manhattan's flagship store. Instead, Strochlitz set off for a place with a sense of community, she said, and wound up finding it in New London after buying a small Ford retailer called Murphy's Garage on Main Street (now Eugene O'Neill Drive).
Strochlitz decided to name the dealership Whaling City Ford in a bow to New London's whaling heritage.
"Chuck and I have worked hard to continue my father's traditions and to expand the dealership's potential," Primus said.
Primus said her employees have been supportive of the renovations, and showed their loyalty in a big way earlier this year when about 10 of them showed up to help out after a roof caught on fire after hours and was quickly extinguished. Some stayed as late as 2 to 3 a.m., she said, to help clean up.
"And nobody came in late (the next day)," she added.
The sense of community at Whaling City mirrors Primus' philosophy of investing in the community and staying in touch with customers.
"We are lucky to have a very loyal customer base," she said. "We enjoy spending time with them."