Rhoades Automotive makes the drive downtown

COLUMBIA CITY — A familiar face throughout the county recently became the newest face in downtown Columbia City.Rhoades Automotive has consolidated its two previous locations — one on South Line Street and the other on U.S. 30 in Larwill — to one spot on West Van Buren Street, Columbia City. Lamonte Rhoades, president, said having a location downtown was important to the company.“We wanted to be part of downtown, if possible,” he said.Columbia City’s redevelopment commission stepped in for help. The company received a facade grant, which Rhoades said helped in the placement of new signs for the building.“The signs make an impact,” he said. “People notice them. The city helped with signs and modifications to the building,” he said. “We are very grateful and thankful for that. It’s a huge help when they’re willing to invest in a small business like ours.”Rhoades had been looking to bring the two locations together for some time, and he said having the downtown spot in the city made everything he wanted a reality.“We wanted to be a part of Columbia City,” he said. “We feel like we are. The people we serve in this town are so important to us. We wanted to be a local, family-owned, small business.”The signs and new location have also increased the visibility of the car dealer. “People may have heard of us, but they didn’t know what we did. Now you can really see it,” he said. “We have had a lot of (foot) traffic so far.”There were four buildings for sale on the corner of West Van Buren Street and Walnut Street, which is where Rhoades Automotive sits. Since the company is now on the southwest side of the corner, there is one open business at the intersection.“People tell us they are thankful we are here,” Rhoades said. “For us, to actually have something going at this side of town is a big benefit.”Rhoades said the location may be different, but he hopes to do what he has been doing for years — get people the automobiles they need.His dealership works with sellers across the nation to line up customers with the exact make and model they want. Rhoades said that has brought people back.“Seventy percent of our business is probably referral or repeat business,” he said. While the base of the business will remain the same, Rhoades Automotive has also added detailing since the move to West Van Buren Street.“We have needed that service for a long time,” Rhoades said. “People can get quality service on cleaning and polishing their vehicles.”The approach Rhoades Automotive takes as a car dealership is slightly unconventional as well. Besides what is on the lot, Rhoades uses an online program to match sellers across the nation with local buyers.Customers sit at the computer screen and see the price Rhoades is paying for the car, so they know the profit the company is taking from each purchase.“We don’t have the mark-up of others,” Rhoades said. “We don’t have the budgets either.”What Rhoades Automotive has is a local touch. That is a revolution in the economy that took a while for the dealership’s president to see.“I didn’t realize that years ago,” Rhoades said. “People like to do business locally, with people they go to church with, that they see at functions and they see at the chamber of commerce.”Local business ultimately benefits the local consumers.“If it stays local, the taxes stay here,” Rhoades said. “Your money stays in Whitley County.”Even with a new location, Rhoades expects to do what has become a passion for him — selling cars. And it has become a family affair, as his wife and daughter work alongside him.“I love cars,” he said. “This is not work. This is fun, every day. We’ve been very blessed to be here.”