POULSBO — Courtesy Ford, once the anchor of Poulsbo’s auto row on Viking Avenue, is closing after almost 30 years of business.
In a press release issued by their attorney, Roger Sherrard, owners John and Terri Hern announced their plans to close the dealership and retire.
“With the downturn in the economy, like many auto dealers across the nation, the Herns have found it difficult to maintain their dealership and had been seeking a buyer for the past several months,” Sherrard wrote in the press release. “Although they worked with several prospective buyers, nothing came to fruition, and they made the difficult decision to close the dealership.”
Sherrard said other local Ford dealerships will honor factory warranties that came with cars purchased at Courtesy Auto.
The Herns opened Courtesy Ford in 1982. During the heyday of the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, the company was a major employer as well as a contributor to local education, health care and community events.
“When you have wanted to accomplish something around here, we knew that if John Hern was involved it would get done,” Poulsbo City Councilman Ed Stern said.
The Herns and Courtesy Ford contributed to the Poulsbo 3th of July fireworks show, and championed the Olympic College Poulsbo campus and the college’s medical programs. Terri has been a board member of the Olympic College Foundation for many years and John took the lead in improving the infrastructure and appearance of Viking Way.
“John and Terri Hern have made a significant, personal impact on an entire generation at Olympic College,” Olympic College President Dr. David Mitchell said. “Their philanthropic legacy will continue to impact future generations of local college students. John and Terri’s commitment to Olympic College, higher education, and their local community will be long remembered in Kitsap County.”
The Herns contributed funding for the college’s lecture hall, funding for equipment for the physical therapy assistant program, and student scholarships. They also contributed to, and participated in, efforts to revive the Poulsbo Marine Science Center. With former Poulsbo mayor Mitch Mitchusson, John Hern put together the deal to bring Regal Cinemas to Poulsbo.
But the economic downturn that began in 2004 took the auto row apart, bit by bit. Street improvements further disrupted business on the thoroughfare, the Herns and others contended. Poulsbo RV left Viking Avenue in 2008. Courtesy Used Cars closed.
In 2010, the city received $296,860 as its share of sales tax revenue generated by Viking Avenue businesses — down from $633,091 in 2007, a reflection of the departure of Poulsbo RV and all dealerships save Courtesy Ford. Traffic on Viking Avenue has declined from as many as 22,000 cars a day during the auto row heyday, to 12,724 a day, according to Stern.
Hern, Mitch James of James Lumber/Ace Hardware, and Viking Ave. Investments, owner of the former Poulsbo RV property, are among the largest commercial property owners on the thoroughfare. They hired Jon Rose, CEO of Olympic Property Group, as a consultant to develop a revitalization plan. Likewise, a group of large residential property owners has been meeting to discuss possible future uses of their properties.
Some city officials would like to see Viking Avenue’s vacant commercial space redeveloped with village-like mixed uses, with street-level stores and cafes and upper-level apartments and homes. Mayor Becky Erickson initiated a city marketing website, CrossroadsPoulsbo.com, which follows the same design as the city website and has information about city demographics, business districts, zoning and development code, and community organizations. Erickson has also toyed with a theme for Viking Avenue, and developed a mock flyer touting the thoroughfare as “The Man’s Side of Town,” in reference to the auto-related businesses there. (Other businesses include a bank, brewery, children’s clothing store, grocery, restaurants, and home services.)
In June, Hern leased the former Courtesy Used Cars site to Washington Tractor, a company formed from the merger of four John Deere dealerships in Washington state. Hern said Washington Tractor is one of many steps to come in the economic revitalization of the once vibrant auto row; he and other commercial owners continue to try and lure other big businesses to the thoroughfare.
“We’re in a good position,” Hern said in June. “With the improvements that have been made (to Viking Avenue), this is an excellent place for a grocery/drug store or a box store of some type. There’s a lot of interest. The infrastructure is already here, a prospective developer won’t have to pay for that.”
Hern, one of the three largest commercial property owners on the thoroughfare, said he thinks Viking Avenue is suitable for a Safeway with a gas station, or a QFC. He said a so-called big box store has expressed interest in Viking Avenue, but he doesn’t expect that to happen until the economy improves.
“This is one of the last commercial places in the city until Poulsbo expands,” Hern said. “Growth has to come here in the future.”
Sherrard said the Herns have “mixed emotions” about closing Courtesy Ford. “They are coordinating with Ford and others to make this transition as smooth as possible, and wish the best for their many loyal customers, friends and employees.” He added, “Poulsbo and Kitsap County are much better places to live and work because of the significant contributions of John and Terri Hern.”