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Open Diff – Where was your town’s automobile row?

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Photo by Alexander Rabb.

In larger cities, automobile rows stretched as long as a mile, chock-full of automobile dealerships with their neon ablaze, service stations with rotating signs, and parts stores that made it possible to work on the cars you bought three doors down.

By no means were automobile rows relegated to big cities, however. Pretty much every locale across the country had its own smaller version of concentrated auto-related businesses. Some, like Pittsburgh, even had factories or assembly plants anchoring their automobile rows.

And then, from the Fifties through the Eighties, a confluence of factors led to the wholesale dispersal of automobile rows. The properties they occupied either became prohibitively expensive or the targets for urban renewal. Dealerships evolved from offering cars on order to offering them on demand, which required larger inventory lots. And, as The New York Times wrote in 1984 during the last days of Manhattan’s automobile row, dealerships also chased their customers as they fled inner cities for the suburbs. Similarly, auto parts stores and gas stations soon staked out corner lots across suburbia.

These days, automobile rows might get an offhand mention or fond remembrance as developers come in and revamp the old buildings, but at one point they were big drivers for many local economies. And they were where a lot of automotive history took place on a local level.

So, rather than list every city and town’s automobile row, we thought we’d open it up to you to tell us about your town’s automobile row. Do some digging, tell us what you find.