Kalawsky family re-investing in their first Castlegar dealership

Neil Kalawsky stands outside the first dealership his family purchased in Castlegar. Kalawsky Chevrolet Buick GMC is currently undergoing a $1.2-million renovation. - Kim Magi photo
Neil Kalawsky stands outside the first dealership his family purchased in Castlegar. Kalawsky Chevrolet Buick GMC is currently undergoing a $1.2-million renovation.
— image credit: Kim Magi photo

Now with three car dealerships and one auto body shop in Castlegar, the Kalawsky family is in the midst of giving their first dealership in the city a $1.2-million face-lift.

“We wanted to bring [Kalawsky Chevrolet Buick GMC] up to the standards of our other buildings,” Neil Kalawsky said.

In 1989, Kalawsky purchased the dealership at the corner of Columbia Avenue and 17th Street. He said the building, which was built in 1977, hasn’t received much in the way of updates since.

Instead, the family focused on expanding, purchasing two more car dealerships — starting with Toyota in 2001, which moved to its current location at 1530 Columbia Ave. in 2008.

“We were lucky to be able to get a lot of that size on Columbia,” Kalawsky said.

When Toyota moved, that left a building open on 17th Street.

“We thought Hyundai was a good brand for the area because it’s good quality and affordable,” Kalawsky said.

And so the family's Hyundai dealership opened at its current location two years ago.

In between all that, the Kalawskys purchased T&T Auto Body on 6th Avenue and moved their auto body shop, which was previously located at the original building, to the new location, doubling its size in the process.

“As a family we knew we were going to be in the car business for a long time,” Kalawsky said of the purchases and renovations.

Last year, General Motors came out with a new look for all their dealerships, he added.

“All these companies have a general image,” he said, so they decided to update everything.

“The main change in the building is that we’re adding a drive-through,” he explained. Service advisors will be in the area when customers drive their car in and they can wait in the new lounge area (which will include many amenities, including a fireplace) while their car is serviced.

“This will be the second drive-through in the West Kootenay,” he said (the first is their Toyota dealership). “We’re changing the whole look of it.”

With three dealerships in Castlegar, Kalawsky doesn’t see the family opening any more in the near future.

“The car business is a hands-on business and if you move too far away it’s hard to manage,” he said about keeping the locations all in Castlegar.

Kalawsky thinks it’s wise to instead invest into their current dealerships.

“[The renovation is] progressing along on time,” he said. “There’s been a lot of growth and development in Castlegar and this is another part of it.”

He said it makes sense to invest in the city as it has generally had a stable economy.

“The type of investments we make are long-term and will be in Castlegar for a long time.”

Kalawsky said their long-term mission is to become the automotive centre of the Kootenays, and they’re on their way with four major brands already, but he said even though there are three dealerships, they all stay competitive.

“Let’s face it: all the people in the different stores are on commission so they’re aggressive in sales,” he said.

But he acknowledges the help from his family: his son Keith is the dealer at Hyundai and his other son Craig is at Toyota.

“[Keith’s] background is financial while Craig’s is sales so it makes a good combination,” he said.

He also receives a lot of help from wife Darlene, both in terms of the dealership and the renovations.

“Darlene is a qualified dealer herself,” he said, adding she’s also the project manager of the current renovations.

But, he noted, business stops when they walk through the door at home.

“What we do as a family and the business structure is kept separate,” he said.

Every Wednesday morning they have business meetings to make sure everything is running smoothly.

While the Kalawsky Chevrolet Buick GMC building finishes their renovations, which are due to be completed at the end of July, it’s clear Kalawsky is excited about his latest investment.

“It’s going to look real nice,” he said.

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