Cruising Western Branch’s ‘Automotive Alley’

Published 6:18 pm Monday, November 20, 2017

It’s not quite the motor mile, but for 2,394 linear feet of Route 17 in Western Branch, there are vehicles as far as the eye can see.

The First Team and Hall dealerships together sell 11 makes of vehicles from the half-mile stretch of road. When you get the itch for a new ride, you can turn into almost any driveway and prepare to greet the salespeople who eagerly await the opportunity to sell you a Toyota, Subaru, Kia, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep or Ram.

But none of it — not the dealerships, and not the more than 1,000 cars they have on the lots at any one time combined — was there 40 years ago.

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Ashton Lewis Sr. saw promise in the area that perhaps few others at the time saw.

“He always saw the potential in this area and the development that was coming,” said his son, Ashton Lewis Jr., the chief operating officer of First Team Auto Group. “It’s good to see where it is now.”

The elder Lewis moved what was at the time Hall Chevrolet to Western Branch in 1986, when most of the area beyond the Chesapeake city line in Churchland was still just farmland.

“I think he certainly saw the vision and development that was planned for this area,” the younger Lewis said.

Even back then, the car manufacturers were beginning to see the benefit to being more centrally located to the populace of Western Branch, Portsmouth and Suffolk, Lewis Jr. said.

“The way they usually work is as the market grows, the manufacturer sees they can better serve their customers with another location,” he said.

The other dealerships came along as time went on. First Team moved its Toyota dealership to the area from Portsmouth in 2008, and it already had the former Riddle Honda dealership purchased.

The Subaru and Kia dealerships are much newer. The Subaru dealership opened about two years ago, while the Kia dealership opened in September of 2016.

“They did their studies and realized this area could support a Subaru store,” Lewis said. “We were really excited. Once we put that store up, we went to Kia and they thought it could support a store as well.”

Other businesses have popped up along the way, with very few non-vehicle-related businesses interrupting the onslaught of cars on this half-mile along Route 17. Tire shops, an auto audio shop, an auto parts store and a window-tinting business are all available nearby to customers who need to maintain or improve upon their vehicles.

The dealerships have experienced the benefit of the growing Western Branch community. Lewis said the First Team group is on track to sell about 4,500 vehicles this year; last year, it sold only about 3,600.

“We’ve been fortunate,” Lewis said. “That’s good growth. The more we can do to support the customers and residents of Western Branch and North Suffolk, the better it will be for all of us.”