MONTAGE: Connecting the dots with used car lots.

Just last night my latest article posted on Urban Indy, and apparently it also earned a mention on Streetsblog.  I’m not going to double-post, so allow me to paraphrase here.

An often-overlooked opportunity for infill development is a ubiquitous land use across disinvested inner cities: the mom-and-pop, unlicensed used car dealership.  We’ve all seen them before: names like “R&W Auto Sales” (pick your favorite two letters and separate with an ampersand), prices never into the five digits (and sometimes not even four), no website, and signage along the lines of “buy now and take home”.  It isn’t a particularly bold statement to suggest that small used dealerships flourish in low-income neighborhoods.  They are a cue that land values in the area are low: aside from the fact that they are more likely to locate close to their demographic base, these dealerships need cheap land to operate. Obviously they require more space than a convenience store or a tax filing service in order to run the business; their inventory occupies a parking lot.  And since the inventory is already significantly devalued, the best way to guarantee a secure profit margin is to operate on land where the per square foot costs are rock bottom.

The montage of photos below shows the propensity of used car dealerships in some near southeast neighborhoods in Indianapolis.  The Virginia Avenue corridor runs through three neighborhoods: Fletcher Place, Holy Rosary, and Fountain Square, all of which have begun gentrifying quite a bit in the last decade.  The used car lots prevail, but it’s clear that some of the owners are sitting on a potential development gold mine, and they know it: many of them are for sale, and it is inevitable that the others will likely go in the near future.  If anything, land values have increased enough that it’s hard to operate such a low-end business, so if R&W or any other owner chooses to cash out, they very well could relocate to another part of town where cheap, highly visible land is still abundant.

Below is a photo series of used car lots along Virginia Avenue, starting from the heart of Fountain Square and working northwesterly through Fletcher Place toward downtown:(Note: the last of these pictures is an automobile broker, which is a different operation altogether, but it no doubt sought cheap land because, quite simply, cars take up a lot of space.)

The second photo series is in the Bates-Hendricks neighborhood, which is experiencing gentrification at a much slower pace, but it still has its share of properties that could attract infill development in the next decade.  These photos are particularly interesting because they all sit within a block from one another, at the intersections of East Street and Morris Street or East Street and Prospect Avenue, so it’s quite a cluster.

It may be hard to tell from this angle, but four used car lots are visible within the frame of this photo below:I’m not going to go into any detail further here (I already did that at Urban Indy) but feel free to review that post, which explores the economics behind this land use in greater detail and provides quite a few more photos.  As always, comments are welcome.

8 thoughts on “MONTAGE: Connecting the dots with used car lots.

  1. Anonymous

    Interesting post, thanks, found out about it from Streetsblog. Being from Cincinnati, I see a lot of similar architectural details in your photographs. I hope you are right that these blocks and empty lots will become more active and human-oriented as opposed to car-oriented.

  2. AmericanDirt

    Thanks for the comment. As you no doubt know, the full article (and a pretty vigorous debate) is featured on the Urban Indy link that I have embedded in this post. If, as some people have speculated, these lots were former gas stations, they would probably require environmental remediation which would certainly pose a barrier to redevelopment. However, with two of the featured lots on Virginia already up for sale, it is obvious that the will for redevelopment is there, at least from the perspective of the owner of the used car lots. Whether or not they’ll get redeveloped remains to be seen.

  3. Imran Khan

    Nice. Reminds me of Pulaski ave or western ave here in the chi. The ones on Pulaski are in lower income neighborhoods. The one Fullerton ave by my parents closed down. Yuppies and hipsters are moving in.

    1. AmericanDirt Post author

      Yeah, I could see parts of Western having lots of used car dealerships, since it’s a pretty wide street (by Chicago standards). Also doesn’t surprise me about hipsters/yuppies moving in (usually the first followed by the second). Did the one that closed down turn into something else, or is it just sitting there empty?

  4. Arlington TX window tinting

    Very interesting. I’m a window tinting professional in Arlington TX, and we see a lot of these used car lots in our area as well. In fact, our entire state seems to be saturated with used car dealerships that never can seem to empty their inventory. Thanks for the post and photos, very interesting.

  5. AmericanDirt

    Thank you for your comment. Normally responses that are “hidden” advertisements for another service are the only type of responses I delete (since I see them as spam), but since you have been completely candid about your business, I’ll keep your post. It does seem as though such car dealerships are becoming more prevalent–perhaps due to the poor economy, a broader segment of the population is relying on them to finance a vehicle.

  6. Window Tinting San Diego

    Yeah, we have a lot of these lots out here in Southern California as well. The land could probably be better used for other things.

  7. Dallas window tinting

    Excellent post. Very interesting how these empty car lots are popping up all over the place. We have some of those over here in the Dallas, TX area as well.


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