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Lodi auto dealers cry foul over out-of-town firm's tent sale

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Posted: Thursday, September 8, 2005 10:00 pm

Local auto dealers are dismayed that the city permitted an out-of-town dealership to hold a tent sale in Lodi, which they say took away potential business from their lots.

In mid-August, Folsom Lake Dodge held a tent sale for used cars in the parking lot of Big Kmart on Cherokee Lane. The dealership obtained a permit from the city for the three-day event and sales taxes on cars sold at the tent sale will go to the city of Lodi.

But several car dealers and the head of the Lodi Chamber of Commerce took issue with the city granting a permit for an event they say does little for the local economy, while dampening their sales. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Pat Patrick approached the Lodi City Council with those concerns at a meeting Wednesday night.

"We're pumping money into the economy with our payroll," said Dennis Calton, general manager of Sanborn Chevrolet. "These people coming in from out of town aren't doing anything for the city."

Mike Tiehm, co-owner of Plummer Pontiac Cadillac GMC Buick, said "it makes no sense" to let an outside dealer sell in the city when established dealers constantly contribute to Lodi's economy.

"We just invested $15 million into a new facility and they just come in with a tent," Tiehm said.

Patrick suggested city leaders alter the rules allowing such sales by out-of-town firms.

"Am I trying to restrain free trade? No. I'm saying the city should through policy be more considerate of local businesses," he said.

The city's zoning code lumps tent sales into the same category as Christmas tree lots and pumpkin patches, according to City Manager Blair King.

Tent sales aren't allowed in the zone in which Wal-Mart and its parking lot are located, King said. But the area around Kmart is not zoned that way.

Something can be done, though, King said.

"We're sensitive to the issues those auto dealers brought up, and we'd like to resolve this," he said.

King said the city wants to support Lodi's permanent businesses and may look into requiring that tent sales be related to a specific tenant on the grounds where they are held.

Folsom Lake Dodge owner Carlos Hidalgo said his dealership holds tent sales throughout Northern California and sells an average of 30 to 40 vehicles at those events. He said Lodi's dealers have the right to do the same.

"It is free enterprise," he said. "If they want to come to my town and try to do it, go ahead."

Calton said he has no interest in traveling sales.

"I'm not interested in taking my business on the road. My business is in Lodi," said Calton, adding that he would open a traditional brick-and-mortar dealership if he did business elsewhere.

But the city's zoning code could use a review, Vice Mayor Susan Hitchcock said.

"The zoning code is in desperate need of revision," Hitchcock said, adding that it has not been changed in over 10 years. Loopholes in the code could inadvertently hurt local business, she said.

A draft revision was discussed when Hitchcock was on the Planning Commission, but the code was never overhauled, she said, adding that there was little consensus on proposed changes.

"Maybe one of the best things might be to take little piece by little piece as you go through it," she said.

Contact reporter Jake Armstrong at jakea@lodinews.com.

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