Whether buying a car that makes a statement or a utilitarian sedan to cart about the family, most Utahns travel the same stretch of road when shopping for a car: U.S. 89.
Automobile dealerships dot the snaking roadway from Logan to Ephraim. They lure passersby with gleaming vehicles atop pedestals highlighted by spotlights. Others sport mammoth electronic signs advertising the makes they sell.Still others, mostly mom-and-pop used-car operations, resort to hand-painted signs, neon-colored flags and gold and silver streamers to attract customers.
An informal count by the Deseret News indicates there are more than 160 new and used car lots from Bountiful to south Provo - the vast majority used-car operations.
Jerry Hayes, president of the Utah Automobile Dealers Association, said auto dealerships have traditionally clustered along U.S. 89 because of the roadway's steady traffic flow.
With the advent of the interstate system, traffic patterns have changed, but Hayes said auto lots traditionally locate close to one another to accommodate customers.
For instance, when Hayes Bros. opened a Buick dealership in South Salt Lake, the brothers chose a location across the street from Hinckley's Dodge. "We figured they'll be looking at Dodges so they'll look at Buicks, too."
While proximity forces auto dealers to compete head-to-head, Hayes said the competition is healthy.
"It helps. It attracts business. If there are three or four dealerships together, it's a convenience," Hayes said. "It helps to have your dealership in a convenient location. You know, business attracts business."
The greatest concentration of automobile lots along U.S. 89 is between the Point of the Mountain and North Temple - 74 used-car lots and 32 new-car dealerships with accompanying used car lots.
Nine new-car lots are located between 5300 South and 5900 South State, most owned by Larry H. Miller and Ken Garff. Another six new-car dealerships are between 4500 and 4800 South State, including Cline's Auto Sales and Tim Dahle Nissan.
Seemingly, the used-car business has gravitated to the south end of the Salt Lake Valley. Between 8000 South and 9000 S. State, there are nearly two dozen small used-car operations.
Some of these operations use converted mobile homes as offices. Some have hand-painted signs and they're run by people named Phil, Larry and Dewey.
Hayes said he believes the small, used-car operations cater to Utah's working class families.
"It (Sandy/Midvale) is a bedroom community and the people that buy used cars are more apt to be 8-to-5 workers who don't just take off any time they feel like it to buy a car. Your more affluent car buyer can take off any time to shop for a new car. The trend for used car lots has definitely gone south in the valley," he said.
While auto malls have become the rage in fast-growing communities in California and even St. George, Hayes said he believes most Utah auto dealers will reside along U.S. 89 for the near future.
But Hayes doesn't rule out the possibility that more Utah auto dealers will utilize the mall concept in the future. "Dealerships have a tendency to go where the traffic flows go."
This article is one of a weekly series on the people, places and issues along Utah's U.S. 89.