Bob Stone Auto to fill empty Hood River lot.

Jan. 1, 2011

Hood River is getting a new car dealership at the Cascade Ave. location formerly occupied by Cliff Smith Motors and briefly by Weston Kia for a portion of 2010. The new dealer intends to stick around and is already well-known in the Gorge.

Bob Stone Freeway Auto Center of The Dalles is expanding its operations to Hood River and intends to open its new annex by March.

"We're looking forward to that expansion and to a great annex to what we've got going here," Stone General Manager Mark Prater said.

The annex will sell from the same inventory as the main dealership in The Dalles, including GMC, Chevy, Buick and Subaru. Prater said the auto center will move cars back and forth between the lots to take advantage of the different demographics in The Dalles and Hood River.

"We'll have a wide array of vehicles," he said.

The new site will open operations without a service center, with Prater saying that all services and parts would continue to be handled by The Dalles location for the time being.

The annex location is expected to open with a staff of around seven, and Prater said he is "interviewing aggressively" to fill those positions.

The site at 3100 Cascade Ave. is also occupied by Enterprise Rental and Prater said they will continue to remain at the lot.

Enterprise did not comment on the move.

Prater believes Hood River and Subaru are a perfect fit, and said the belief that Hood River had more than enough population to sustain a dealer led the auto center to make the jump into Hood River.

"It's a natural fit," he said. "Subaru is so unbelievably strong in the Gorge."

He also said a strong sales year in 2010 for the dealership, at a time when many other dealers are closing or in steep slumps, made the move easier to make.

"We've had a great year," Prater said.

The Hood River County Chamber of Commerce was enthused about the move and having one of its major sponsors take up a physical presence in Hood River.

"They've been supportive of both The Dalles Chamber and the Hood River Chamber for so long so it will be nice to have them nearby," Chamber Director Kerry Cobb said.

The auto center is on board as a sponsor for both the chamber's Hops and Harvest Fests, and Cobb said they are looking forward to further collaboration in the future.

Moving to a location where two car dealers have failed recently did not faze Prater, and he said he had confidence that Bob Stone Auto would become a long-term presence in Hood River.

"I believe it comes down to personnel and product," he said of the strategy that led Bob Stone Auto to a banner year. "Hood River has enough population to sustain a dealership if the dealership is done the right way."

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