Down economy opens doors for used car dealers

Published 10:43 am Monday, August 1, 2011

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Kayla Pruitt walks past one of the vehicles on the lot of Pruitt’s Used Cars on U.S. 61 North Friday afternoon.

NATCHEZ — An economic downturn doesn’t mean engine failure for everyone.

In fact, the country’s woes in recent years drove a few local entrepreneurs to start their engines instead and open new businesses.

Clayton Gay, a retiree who advises his sons in managing River City Auto Plex on D’Evereux Drive in Natchez, said the dealership opened in October 2010 because there was a need for inexpensive used cars in the community.

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“They are trying to help the Natchez community for people who have bad or no credit,” Gay said. “We really provide a service to low-income people in Natchez. It’s definitely a need because of the economy.”

Kenny Booker does office work inside of River City Auto-Plex Friday afternoon in Natchez.

David Knapp opened 84 Auto Sales on Carter Street in Vidalia in January and has seen the same thing, he said.

“If you can buy a 2-to-3-year-old vehicle with 30,000 miles on it, why buy a new one?”

Used car dealers don’t turn over cars like dealers of mostly new cars might, Knapp said, but there’s plenty of business to keep the doors open.

“I sell nothing close compared to the biggest (dealerships),” Knapp said. “But if I sell one or two a week, I’m happy.”

River City Auto Plex Sales Manager Kenny Booker said the customers who come to his lot know what they need and what they can afford.

“For example, a woman on a fixed income came in with three children and no husband,” Booker said. “The grandparents helped pitch in and we put her in a car. What happens if mama can’t get to work, or can’t get groceries? The majority of our customers are people who work to make a living without the credit to get a new vehicle.”

Booker said not everyone can pony up $30,000 for a brand new sport utility vehicle, but they can still have a comfortable car without taking out a massive loan.

He said regardless of gas prices, people want larger cars to tote their families.

“People are actually buying bigger, because they need more room,” Booker said.

The used car business certainly pre-dated the economic crisis though. Candace Duplechin, manager at Pruitt’s Auto Sales, said her grandfather, the late Jimmy Pruitt Sr., opened the dealership in approximately 2000.

Pruitt’s was the fulfillment of a dream for the original owner, started out of desire, not just as a money-making venture.

84 Auto Sales, located on Carter Street in Vidalia, is owned by David Knapp.

Knapp’s lot isn’t much different. Dealing in used cars is a glorified hobby that brings in extra income, he said. The owner of a convenience store in Ferriday, Knapp began buying and flipping a few cars there until his wife suggested he get his own lot.

“I used to buy and sell all the time,” Knapp said. “Once that new-car smell wears off, I’m ready for something else.”

Knapp said there is money to be made in the business, but the seller has to know cars, and more than that, be excited about them.

“You have to really like autos to sell them,” Knapp said.