Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lincoln-Mercury Dealerships In Memphis


In the Mid 1980's there were three Lincoln-Mercury dealerships in the Memphis city limits. Schilling Motors was the flagship store with an indoor showroom of cars on the second floor cleaned and ready to sell.

Elvis liked Lincoln Continentals almost as much as Cadillacs. Elvis bought Lincoln Continentals from Schilling Lincoln-Mercurys and maybe also his last two cars. In 1974 Elvis bought the entire stock of Lincoln Continentals Mark IV's, Elvis gave away each of these cars as a  gifts.

I remember my boss saying when he was the New Car manager for Schilling Motors Lincoln on Union, he would get a call that Elvis wanted him to open up the Dealership so he could shop for Lincoln's when he wouldn't be disturbed by others while he made up his mind. He told how one time that his daughter overheard the conversation and she had gotten two of her girlfriends and they had hidden in the rear of her dads demo and they rode to the dealership one night with their dad just so they could get a peek of Elvis.

Schilling Motors 

Schilling Parkway Motors

When Schilling began selling cars in Memphis in 1958, all of the biggest new car dealers were downtown. They had their first showroom at Lamar and Park and it was a thriving Schilling Parkway Motors. As business grew on Union Avenue they built their "Flagship" Store at 987 Union Avenue.

And when the company trumpeted the opening of its indoor "Showplace on Union" in 1966, city records indicate it had plenty of company.

There were 18 new and used car dealerships on Union at the time.

All the major car companies were 'down on Union' back then: Hoehn Chevrolet, Hull-Dobbs Ford, Chip Barwick Chevrolet, and Schilling Lincoln-Mercury. I believe Pryor Olds was on Poplar, maybe in the 400 or 500 block. Everything was downtown. It was a very exciting time. All the dealerships brought a tremendous amount of traffic down there and they stayed open until 9:00 p.m. All the car lot lights lit up that whole end of the city."

Neil Schilling built that store in 1966 and made it his "Flagship Store." It had a fallout shelter in the basement and the walls were several feet thick. It was across the street from the Baptist Hospital and both have now been torn down and new buildings are in their place.

Union Avenue was known to people that lived in Memphis, and surrounding cities as "Automobile Row."

The 987 Union Avenue store had white marble floors, and a forty food ceiling that was made out of hardwood flooring with recessed spotlights to make each car on the showroom to shine like glass. By the entrance was a grandfather's clock that chimed on the hour and on the half hour. Their were eight sales offices and each office had a door for the privacy of the customers when they were negotiating their car purchase. The operator was located in the center of the sales office and she was also the keeper of the keys and extra drive out tags. The Sales Manager tower was located just inside the front door to the right and it was raised to be able to see the entire floor and out door parking lot and Used cars lot. The finance offices and the Billing Clerk were on the right side of the building behind the stairs.

The office was originally downstairs behind the salesman's offices but in the latter years it was put upstairs where the original Sales Meeting Room was located, but later was changed. The offices all were upstairs and the Sales Meeting Room came downstairs where the offices had previously been. Upstairs on the right side was the General Manager's office as well as the President's office or Neil Schilling's Office. The restrooms were state of the art for 1958 with black fixtures and the ladies had a lounge as well.

Behind the showroom floor was the Lincoln-Mercury Service center and the Parts Department. This was the only Service Department in the city that was air-conditioned in the 1960's. The Parts Department has a staff of over thirty to sale parts wholesale to the surrounding dealers and body shops in a 100 mile area of Memphis.

Originally the larger showroom was for Mercury's and the Smaller showroom was for Lincoln's with a separate Sales Staff for Lincoln Customers.  The Lincoln Show Room was very plush and more upscale for the Lincoln Clientele. It had revolving doors at the entrance and it was a state of the facility.

Neil Schilling invented the car transporter to haul cars from the Ford Plant in Memphis and their offices were located just behind the main building and an extra storage lot for cars was adjacent to it. The transport drivers had a lounge and restrooms with showers beside the Lincoln Service Center. Also behind the Parts Department was a Full Service Body Shop.

Foxgate Lincoln Mercury

In the 1970's they decided to venture out into the suburbs of Memphis. The purchased land at the corner of Mt Moriah and Mendenhall and built a New Lincoln-Mercury Dealership at 2660 S. Mendenhall out where other dealerships had moved as they left Union Avenue. This area became the new area of dealerships for a growing metro as people were starting to move away from downtown to the suburbs.

This area was known as the Fox Ridge area and this is how they came up with the name of FoxGate at the entrance of that area. It was a nice dealership but a lot smaller that the Union Avenue Flagship Store. Some of the Sales Staff from the Union Avenue came out to operate this store.

Covington Way

In 1987 Schilling opened up another dealership in the Memphis metro area just off of Covington Pike the "New Automobile Row" in Memphis. This was unheard of in any city that one person owned three dealerships of the same type of car. This was the reason that even though they were all owned by the same people they had different names. This let the customer feel that he could shop the other dealer for a better deal. (and yes they could sometimes get a better deal).

The Covington Way store was located behind Mega Market that faced Covington Pike. This land had previously been a small truck farm for the Podesto Family. The original street name was Joe Podesto Drive, but Schilling asked that it be changed to Covington Way to let customers know that it was off of Covington Pike.

They were able to purchase this piece of land by swapping it with a piece of property that they owned with Kemmons Wilson. They wanted to build a Holiday Inn on the property that was owned by Schilling and Schilling wanted this piece of property that was close to Covington Pike. All of the land on "Automobile Row had been purchased already and this was as close as they could get.

They built a beautiful facility on about five acres of land. It had two separate showrooms just like the Downtown Schilling's. One for Mercury and the other for Lincoln. The entrance to the Service Cent was located between the buildings and you could access either showroom from the inside. As the dealership grew the Lincoln and Mercury showrooms were combined and the Lincoln showroom became the Used Car Department. The lot in front of the dealership had Lincoln and Mercury's at the front entrance and the Used Cars were located in front of the Used Car Department. 

This location had a Sales Department and a Service and a Parts Department. The customers who needed body shop work were referred to Foxgate or Schilling Downtown.

When this store got up to full capacity it had fourteen sales staff and two finance managers as well as a Used and New Car Managers.

In the late 1990's All three stores became known as Schilling Lincoln Mercury Stores. This was done to try and help boost sales in three different locations. When this failed to do what they were hoping to accomplish they decided to retain just one store with Lincoln Mercury and keep their Jeep Store on Foxgate Drive as well.

In 2000 Schilling stores were starting to be sold off because of the decline in sales starting at the Union Avenue Store and the Covington Way Store. Not many people were shopping in the downtown area anymore so they decided to close that store and to find a buyer for the dealership on Covington Way. The staff at these stores were offered positions at the stores on Mendenhall (Lincoln-Mercury and Jeep).

The store on Covington Way was purchased by a dealer out of Austin, Texas that was wanting to expand his dealerships out of Texas. Mr Chagwar purchased the facility and changed the name to Covington Pike Lincoln-Mercury and some of the Schilling staff remained there as well as others came aboard from other locations.

This store was later sold to the Collier's and it became Collier's Lincoln Mercury before it closed.

The Mendenhall Lincoln-Mercury and Jeep Stores were sold to new buyers. The Jeep franchise was sold to Gossett and the Lincoln Mercury Store was sold to Putnam Lincoln-Mercury out of Arkansas. They were the last owners of the Lincoln-Mercury store on Mendenhall.

The owners that had purchased the dealerships from Mrs. Schilling were not car people, they were accountants and when bottom lines started dipping they decided to not hold out for the long term they started selling the real estate for a profit and a healthy bottom line.

They also owned the Schilling Farm in Collierville and they redeveloped it and sold it off in sections as Schilling Farms. They were some fine people, but it takes a die hard breed to stick with the Automobile Dealerships ups and downs as the markets and models changed.

ps. They also closed the dealership that they had in Florence, Alabama and the Dealership that they owned in Little Rock, Arkansas.