Selling cars on The Street


By Johanna Petersson

BMW parks its new dealership Downtown

Traditionally Midtown’s west side is where New Yorkers go to buy their cars. This may be changing a little now that BMW has opened the first car dealership in the Financial District.

The BMW store opened unofficially a month ago and admits sales have been slow. “It takes time to establish a presence,” said A.J. Lane, client advisor at BMW, who has worked for the brand since the eighties. Yet Michael Sexton, diplomatic sales manager for BMW Manhattan, said that there had been one sale already in the first week. “Which is unusual,” he said.

He said BMW was the only car dealership in Manhattan south of 14th St.

Retail in general was hit hard in Lower Manhattan by 9/11. Carl Weisbrod, president of the Alliance for Downtown New York as well as a board member of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation hopes other high end retailers will follow BMW’s example.

“What we know is that there is a huge retail demand in the new World Trade Center and that a lot of retailers are waiting for it to open. But this is great location and hopefully this will bring others around,” said Weisbrod.

Sexton is equally enthusiastic.

“We noticed that we were losing this group of consumers,” he said. “They weren’t coming Uptown, but instead using car dealerships outside the city, in New Jersey and elsewhere. For us it’s great having a presence on Wall St.” He also cites the growing residential population in the Financial District as a reason for the opening. “The neighborhood is revitalizing, non-traditional financial district stores opening up. We also hope that people walking by here on weekends will drop by. Now the question is, how many companies are following?”

As to test drives, these are currently only available at the BMW store on W. 57th St., which also handles service. But Jeff Falk, president of BMW Manhattan, said they are looking to acquire the store’s basement space to be able to offer test drives. The Downtown showroom has four cars. Lane admits that Lower Manhattan is not the easiest neighborhood to drive in. “One problem might be the traffic but I am sure we will be fine during the day, and we will also be open on Saturdays,” he said.

Men and women in suits flocked to an opening party Tuesday, munching on Asian inspired filet mignon canapés and drinking bubbly while looking at the cars at the official opening of the 6,000 square feet store. A soft jazz trio played in the background broken up by chatter. Wall St. attorney David Stitch, attending the opening together with colleague Jill Titel, is positive yet skeptical. He thinks the Lower Manhattan traffic might be a turn off for would be car buyers.

“I don’t know how many cars they’re going to sell, if you buy a BMW – you don’t want to test drive it in Lower Manhattan,” Stitch said. “But I hope it is going to work out, it definitely brings a flavor to Downtown.”

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