LIMA — The story in the April 15, 1923, issue of The Lima News predicted the U.S. would turn out 3 million motor vehicles that year, “making the number on the highways mount beyond 15 million (today the number is around 270 million) — or about one car to every seven persons in the country.” The accompanying headline questioned if there was “Any more room on the highways?”
The automobile was changing America — and West Market Street would never be the same.
“During the last 20 years, the citizens of Lima have seen a very great change in the business affairs of this city,” the News wrote Dec. 12, 1923. “During that time we have seen the advent of the automobile which has changed the entire transportation system and which has made possible the new residential districts and the moving from West Market Street, between Elizabeth and Metcalf streets, the fine residences that were once the homes of the more prominent citizens of Lima.”
Ten days earlier, on Dec. 2, 1923, the Lima Buick Co. had procured a building permit for property at 512 W. Market St. it had purchased from O.B. Selfridge. “This structure will bring the Dodge, Ford, Buick, Studebaker, Overland and Willys Knight agencies right together in one group of but a few blocks and make West Market Street more than ever an automobile row,” the News wrote.
In fact, the predecessor of the Buick dealership had been on automobile row for more than four years. On Nov. 8, 1919, the News reported, the Sturtevant Jones Co., which handled Nash and Marmon cars and Nash trucks, was moving from temporary quarters at 133 E. Spring St., to 320 W. Market St. “The building at 320 W. Market St. was constructed especially for an automobile salesroom and will be one of the better sales-rooms in the city,” the News reported.
The dealership’s success, the News added, was due in large part to its manager, L.B. Merritt. The Missouri native, the newspaper wrote, “knows automobiles from a to z, having spent practically all his life in the business …”
Merritt had landed in Lima around 1914 with quite a pedigree. Merritt, the News wrote in January 1962 “was the grandson of one of the seven Merritt Brothers, the men who developed the great Mesabi iron ore range in Minnesota …” After graduating from the University of Michigan and marrying Louise Holdridge, the daughter of a prominent Lima businessman, he had returned to Minnesota for several years before coming back to Lima and taking over the dealership.
In 1962, Merritt, by then the president of South Side Building and Loan Association, told the News he returned because “he found a great attraction in the friends and family ties he had back in Lima.”
In August 1922, the News reported Merritt, “who has been looking after Buick interests in this territory for the past three years for the Sturtevant Jones Co., has made arrangements … to handle the Buick line of cars under the name of the Lima Buick Co.” His new showroom and garage opened at 512 W. Market St. in October 1924, leaving behind the building at 320 W. Market St. known as the Thompson Garage.
Four years later, on Oct. 15, 1928, the Lima Star and Republican-Gazette reported Merritt had become the exclusive distributor of Chrysler and Plymouth vehicles in Allen and surrounding counties.
Less than two years later, as the Great Depression slammed the brakes on the American economy and brought auto sales nearly to a standstill, Merritt leased the building at 512 W. Market St. to General Motors. He moved his Buick dealership to the 100 block of West North Street and retained an interest in other dealerships.
On March 23, 1930, the News reported that veteran auto dealer J.W. Ryder was moving his Chevrolet sales and service business into the Merritt building. Ryder Chevrolet opened in April 1930 — and was gone by February 1932.
The dealership that replaced Ryder, to be known as the Lima Motor Co., was under the management of Strouse Campbell, formerly of Roanoke, Virginia, the News reported on Feb. 21, 1932.
However, it did not remain under that new management for long before an even newer management took over.
The Lima Motor Co., an ad in the News proclaimed on July 14, 1935, was now “A Lima institution for Lima motorists.” Harold H. Minnick, who had come to Lima from Sioux City, Iowa, to work for Ryder, was announced as the new president and owner. In February 1941, Lima Motor Co. officially became Minnick Chevrolet Inc. In March 1941, Minnick added to the West Market Street automobile row by opening a used car lot on the southwest corner of McDonel and Market streets.
The Minnick Chevrolet dealership lasted much longer than the dealerships that preceded it at 512 W. Market St. However, on Dec. 9, 1953, the News announced that it had been sold to the largest Chevrolet dealer in Ohio.
“The transaction was announced today in a joint statement by Harold H. Minnick, former owner, and Hugh White of Zanesville, new owner,” the newspaper wrote. “Because of the speed with which the transaction was carried out, the new owners plan a formal opening Dec. 18, the day the 1954 Chevrolets will be shown,” the News added.
Like Minnick, the White Chevrolet dealership lasted more than two decades before it was sold in October 1974 to Curt Birkenbine. In 1976, Birkenbine completed a $100,000 remodeling and expansion of the building at 512 W. Market St. before experiencing financial problems and closing in September 1977. The following month, the business was sold to Cleveland resident Al Starnes.
Eventually, the Chevrolet dealership, as well as the others that once lined Lima’s automobile row, moved their operations to the suburbs the automobile had helped create.
The West Market Street site where Merritt had built his dealership in the 1924 became the home of a Lima Medical Supplies store and, next door, the Home Service Laundry Dry Cleaners & Carpet Cleaners. At the cleaners in April 1999 a female worker was stabbed to death during a robbery attempt.
In January 2007, the site was cleared to make room for a Rite Aid drug store.
Meanwhile, it turned out, Lima had not seen the last of the White family. In March of this year, the News reported that Allan Nott Honda and Toyota on Elida Road was being absorbed into the White Family of Dealerships.
“The Whites are not strangers to Lima as White Chevrolet Inc. was in business in Lima from 1953 to 1974,” the News wrote.
Reach Greg Hoersten at email@example.com.