Bridgeville stars in video commemorating Chevrolet's centennial


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Colussy Chevrolet, which sits along traffic-heavy Washington Pike in Bridgeville, looks like many other dealerships -- glossy vehicles lined up along the road for maximum visibility and banners calling out the "Pre-Owned" cars as well as the "New."

Yet there's history here -- a lot of it -- and Chevrolet, a brand launched a century ago in Detroit and one of General Motors' main lines, is looking to Colussy and Bridgeville for a lift in celebrating America's longtime relationship with its cars.

The dealership, started by Italian immigrant Albert Colussy in 1918, welcomed a crew from a New York ad agency a few weeks ago. And they didn't just stop at Colussy. They went to local businesses, a high school football game, to people's houses and even a church.

The first video for the website (www.chevy100.com) celebrating Chevrolet's Nov. 3 centennial went up this week and casts a warm film director's glow over Bridgeville, its place in Americana and, oh, yeah, all the Chevrolets that people have driven there over the years.

Tim Colussy, who was filmed with his younger brother, Jon Colussy, and their father, Louis "Skip" Colussy, seemed bemused by the experience and the young crew from the ad agency, Mother New York.

It has made for yet another interesting story to tell in a family business that has a lot of them and that proudly keeps a sign saying, "The World's Oldest Chevrolet Dealer," up in the showroom.

Mr. Colussy said his grandfather developed a passion for working on cars when his father, a carpenter, told his oldest son to learn how to keep their Republic truck running. A few years later, the family got a franchise with a car company that quickly went out of business.

Meanwhile, a nearby feed and game store had the Chevrolet franchise but wasn't really focused on cars, according to the history as Mr. Colussy learned it. The then 18-year-old self-taught mechanic bought the store's models, sold them and then applied to Chevrolet to get a franchise.

The Colussys don't claim to be the first Chevrolet dealership -- just the one that has endured with the same family in charge.

That first group of Colussy brothers -- there were six -- all ended up in the car business -- some selling Chevys and others running a Ford dealership. The Ford business closed in the 1980s for lack of successors.

No question there has been more change at the Chevrolet dealership than just going from 490 Touring Sedans to Impalas to Volts. At the beginning, the challenge was persuading people to take a chance on motorized vehicles, rather than sticking with their reliable wagons and horses.

During the Depression, Mr. Colussy said, the repair business became important because people couldn't afford new cars. During World War II, Chevrolet even stopped making cars for a while.

The first two-car showroom on Baldwin Street evolved into the current 10-car showroom on Washington Pike built in the mid-'70s. Just after that, Mr. Colussy said, the oil crisis hit and people waited in long lines to fill their gas tanks. His father wondered if the move might have been a mistake.

By the 1980s, rebates and low-interest rate financing changed the sales pacing of the year. "As the incentives started ... our business became very driven by the manufacturers' rebates," Mr. Colussy said.

Recent years haven't been much calmer. Two years ago, General Motors notified hundreds of dealers that it wouldn't renew their franchise agreements as the automaker struggled to cut debt and costs. "I don't think any dealer knew if he was absolutely safe or not," Mr. Colussy said.

He recalled waiting for the FedEx letter that would tell the family whether their long run with Chevrolet was over. They survived, but he noted the culling took out dealerships large and small, based on the footprint General Motors was trying to keep. Later, the automaker went into bankruptcy and re-emerged after shedding some of its problems.

GM reported this month that September sales were up 20 percent over the same month last year, with Chevrolet showing gains for its Silverado, Tahoe and Equinox lines. The Cruze has sold more than 200,000 in its first year, and the Volt, a hybrid that can run on electric or gas, is now rolling out.

In 2010, the Colussy dealership sold 1,300 new and used cars. Mr. Colussy said new car sales so far in 2011 are up 17 percent over last year. Revenue in 2010, including service and sales, totaled $42 million, he said. The business employs about 60 people.

Next year, the dealership is in line for a remodel, or a "facility image program" as it's officially known. The manufacturer wants customer-facing areas updated and improved. "We're fine with that," said Mr. Colussy, although he hopes to create some sort of wall to show off the old pictures and celebrate the franchise's history.

Or perhaps they can just set up a computer to show off the videos that the ad crew shot for Chevrolet's own celebration of history.

The agency didn't ask Colussy for a list of customer names or ask for the best places to visit. They did research through the historical society, the library and the residents of Bridgeville. The crew became regular visitors at La Bella Bean, a coffee shop on Washington Avenue.

A local car club helped set up a car cruise at the Bridgeville Volunteer Fire Department, where owners of older model Chevrolets were filmed. A shot of Sarasnick's Hardware is in the website's slide show.

In the past year or so, GM has taken some flack in ad trade publications over the "Chevy Runs Deep" marketing theme as some questioned how the line generates excitement, but officials defended it as focusing on the authenticity of the brand.

An official release this week about the centennial project describes an online effort meant to involve people in the 100th birthday celebration.

"These online experiences help us celebrate the deep connections Chevrolet has with its customers, the dealers who sell our cars and trucks, and the communities where we do business," said Chris Perry, vice president, global Chevrolet marketing and strategy, in a prepared statement. "We uncovered amazing stories, and we're thrilled to have a fun venue for sharing them."

Bridgeville is part of what's being called, "The Road We're On," an attempt to tell the brand's history through visits with owners, dealers and the communities where they live. Fans are supposed to be able to "pin" their own Chevy experiences on an interactive map.

More video episodes are scheduled to roll out weekly until Nov. 3 and are supposed to also look at "future Chevy innovations and its vision for urban mobility."


Teresa F. Lindeman: tlindeman@post-gazette.com .


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