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Belgian Endive for Tysons Corner?

What's to become of the Tysons Corner's auto dealers? Alec MacGillis has a front-page story today about how the plans for an elevated Metro line to Tysons will cut through Leesburg Pike--and some of the car showrooms Washingtonians have been flocking to for decades. Some dealers plan on redeveloping their showrooms, creating more urban style dealerships of the sort found in Manhattan, London and Paris. (Ooh la la!) Others think they might leave the business entirely.

I love a nice auto showroom-ah the smell of rich Corinthian leather in the morning. But like a lot of Americans I always feel a little quesy whenever I enter one. The cliche of the slick, unscrupulous car salesman is overblown, but there's always that moment when you're dropping 20 large on a new vehicle that you must confront : Am I getting ripped off? That's what happens when you buy something that doesn't really have a price tag on it. Am I paying list price? Or sale price? Or the Consumer Reports "bottom line" price? (What's worse, it is inevitable that just after you buy a car you will meet someone who bought the exact same car and, upon hearing what you paid, will give you a sympathetic look. He got it for five grand cheaper.)

Maybe we'll see more than just an architectural change in Tysons Corner. Maybe the way cars are sold will change, too: less test-driving, more Internet shopping. But what's to become of the dealers themselves, many of whom have been selling cars for generations? They can probably cash in, if they own the pricy land on which their dealerships sit. But many will be itching to stay in the game somehow. They're not going to be content to just sit on their hands.

I'm reminded of tobacco farmers and the suggestions on how to encourage them to grow something more healthful than the demon weed. Belgian endive, wasn't it? I'm not equating car dealers with tobacco growers (I love cars! We have 1.5 per licensed driver in my house). It's just that the car dealers of Tysons may need some help. Like the watermen of the Chesapeake, theirs may be a dying lifestyle.

Wouldn't it be nice if the dealers could still be a part of Tysons? Perhaps they could be landlords of apartment buildings, or condo developers. But, really, I think they should stay transportation related. Let auto dealers take over public transportation in Tysons. Let them run express buses. High-speed rail. Rickshaws taking shoppers from Tysons Corner Center to Tysons Galleria.

Or maybe they can transfer their incredible powers of persuasion to selling something that will reduce traffic, decrease air pollution and make us healthier: "What can I do to put you on a new Schwinn today? And would you like undercoating?"

Hmmm. Maybe not. What are your ideas?

Oh, and by the way, this is John Kelly a-bloggin' here. Thanks to Marc Fisher for inviting me to check out this new technology--and to you for being so gentle.

By John Kelly |  March 20, 2006; 9:23 AM ET
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Ohhh! I was thinking Marc was having a little too much fun today.

Posted by: h3 | March 20, 2006 10:27 AM

Yeah, maybe the last paragraph should be moved up to the front of the post?

I enjoy both writers, so it's not like I'm sorry I read it, but I usually like to know who I'm reading as I go along.

Posted by: Jeff | March 20, 2006 10:55 AM

Based on my experiences with the Nissan and Chrysler dealers, once the overhead is built, they, each and every one, should be strung up so as to hang from the overpass. It should be by the feet so they can last longer. I mean that in the nicest way possible.

Posted by: Stick | March 20, 2006 10:56 AM

Is this for real? This is about the stupidest supposition I have ever heard. Is Alec McGuinness seriously suggesting that people aren't going to buy cars anymore because there is a Metro station in Tysons? Give me strength.

Posted by: Amazed | March 20, 2006 11:20 AM

No, what he's saying is that the dealerships themselves may have to vamoose, since they're in the way of the planned Metro line. Progress, etc.

Posted by: John Kelly | March 20, 2006 11:27 AM

I think 'Amazed' should try reading articles instead of just headlines. You might be "amazed" at how people don't look so "stupid" anymore once you take the time to understand what they're saying.

Posted by: Jeff | March 20, 2006 11:55 AM

You know, there is a Commerce Bank today in Dupont Circle just below Connecticut and Florida Avenue in a building that began its life as an automobile showroom. Automobile dealerships are low-valued land uses, and will always be moving away from the center in favor of higher valued land uses. This is a good thing.

Posted by: Kalorama Kat | March 20, 2006 1:37 PM

1.5 Drivers in the JK household? Who is the 1 and who is the .5?

Posted by: TC | March 20, 2006 2:00 PM

TC, he said 1.5 drivers PER car. I think that means there are three cars. JK's children are too young to drive.

Posted by: THS | March 20, 2006 2:15 PM

Dr. Dremo, which used to be Bardo brewery, in Arlington used to be a car dealership back in the late '70's. I'd say that Dr. Dremo is more useful and entertaining.

Posted by: Stick | March 20, 2006 2:25 PM

Yes, two drivers; three cars. I once spent a year doing an academic fellowship with journalists from around the world. The journalist from China couldn't believe we had three cars. I explained that each adult needed a car and I had an old sports car that I drove every now and then as a hobby. She was incredulous. I did find it hard to defend, although an American would understand it perfectly. I am looking forward to Bike to Work Day, though. It's May 19th this year.

Posted by: John Kelly | March 20, 2006 2:51 PM

How ‘bout some sympathy for the soon to be unemployed car sales people? In DC we took away the gay night clubs and bathhouses to build a baseball stadium, what chance will the car dealerships have in Fairfax Co? They’ll be lucky to get an endive concession in the newest strip mall.

Posted by: Former Car Salesman | March 20, 2006 3:31 PM

I think the car dealerships have to make themselves into destination shopping: make a track on the top of their new Euro-style dealership like Fiat did in Torino (wasn't it Fiat? Wasn't it Torino?) so we don't have to test drive in that gawd-forsaken stretch of paved Northern Virginia wasteland.

Posted by: Vrrrooom | March 20, 2006 3:50 PM

Well, Tysons may become some sort of mass-transit meca once Metro runs all the dealers out of town, but the Chantilly autopark has revived the concentration of dealerships elsewhere. Don't count them as dead just yet. And as much as I hate their excessive tearing down of trees that once made that a beautiful stretch of Rte 50, it must make it somewhat easier to shop when you can threaten to walk out of one dealership to go to the one next door.

Posted by: OD | March 20, 2006 4:06 PM

Moving car dealerships further from the center will increase the number of salesmen, not decrease it. As the metro area grows there will be more cars, not fewer, and more dealerships. And, as J. Kelly's salary rises and family grows, he will no doubt take on a few more four-wheeled responsibilities.

Posted by: Kalorama Kat | March 20, 2006 4:48 PM

My family's done. Stick a fork in 'em. I do have teenagers in the pipeline, but I'm not gonna be one of those dads who rushes out to buy a new car for the new driver. They'll have to learn in the minivan, or maybe the Mini Cooper (more maneuverable and everyone should know how to drive a stick).

I guess more cars overall in the area is inevitable. But does it have to be? Won't we reach some point--when it takes two hours to get from the Cabin John Bridge to the 270 split--when the whole thing collapses, like an overgrown population of lemmings? Let's hope the Purple Line has been built by then.

Posted by: John Kelly | March 20, 2006 5:33 PM

John, just wanted to say thanks for filling in for Marc and hope you are being treated well!

Posted by: Ryan | March 20, 2006 5:34 PM

Much as I love my beemer and hauling some serious booty, we do need to get real about expanding public transportation options. I wouldn't mind too much being a 1-car family (hubby would have a fit if he saw this - he loves his truck more than my beemer) and having a Schwinn as a daily driver.

Posted by: MartP | March 20, 2006 5:58 PM

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