October 20, 2014

Elyria
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52°F
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Spitzer leaves Grafton

GRAFTON – The year was 1913, and Model T automobiles began rolling off Henry Ford`s new moving assembly line.

BRUCE BISHOP / CHRONICLE
Spitzer`s Grafton store on Main Street, which was the first Spitzer dealership, is closing.

Ford rode through Grafton on a train, declaring it a great place to sell cars and convinced George Spitzer to begin selling Tin Lizzies out of his hardware store.

Ninety-four years later, on Thursday, the era of selling cars in downtown Grafton ended when Spitzer Auto World Grafton closed for good.

All 10 employees working in sales and service for Chevrolet, Dodge and Buick vehicles will be transferred to dealerships in Amherst, Sheffield and Parma, company spokesman Anthony Giardini said.

Giardini said there just wasn`t enough room in the cramped dealership, which spanned both sides of state Route 57 – Main Street – near the railroad tracks. He said an effort about four years ago to build a new dealership on the north side of town met opposition from Mayor Shari Szczepanski and several village council members living in nearby subdivisions.

“She basically said no (and) we needed their cooperation,” Giardini said. “It`s sad we`re having to move out of Grafton because that`s where the company started.”

Spitzer Management, headquartered in Elyria, continues to run about 25 car dealerships in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, and it has more than 800 employees, Giardini said. Through the years, Spitzer Management has branched off into land development and owns a marina in Lorain and the Pheasant Run Golf Course in LaGrange.

Szczepanski said she drove to the dealership Thursday evening to survey an end of an era.

“It`s a sad thing,” Szczepanski said. “Spitzer has been part of our history for more than 100 years.”

As Szczepanski remembers it, residents of Emerald Point – where she lives – and other subdivisions had concerns about a “big box” dealership nearby.

“When you think of Grafton, you don`t think of big box businesses,” she said. “There wasn`t enough land there, and it wasn`t properly zoned and they never came in for a zoning change.”

The village would have been willing to work with Spitzer but the venture never went forward, she said.

Szczepanski had fond memories Thursday of all the Spitzer clan, including Del Spitzer, who was a television fixture for decades declaring “I want to sell you a car now!”

The mayor said Del`s brother Stewart was “a sweetheart” and delighted in taking naps in the cars.

Ironically, the hardware store south of the dealership will remain, selling varied items such as touch lamps, paint, hammers and shovels.

An employee of the car dealership said he was taking the closing in stride. A representative came in Thursday morning with the news the dealership would close that day, he said.

“It`s a sad day for Grafton because it`s the original location,” said the employee, who declined to give his name. “I`m surprised it`s happening this quickly – business was dropping off, but we didn`t see it coming.”

Down the street, Nancy Means at Lu`s Pizza said she`ll miss the employees the most.

“Every Saturday they`d come in and get four or five pizzas for the guys,” she said.

Means said a conversion van she purchased at Spitzer`s was “the best van I ever had.”

“I wish someone would have kicked me for getting rid of it,” she said with a laugh.

Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.