Recovery after COVID: Union Street Auto rebounds during a difficult time

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Union Street Auto is on the rebound after sales were off due to COVID-19. Photo/Winter Trabex

MANCHESTER, NH – Peter Gerges emigrated with his family from Egypt to America at the age of 19. Having a natural curiosity and being drawn to new experiences, he soon moved out of his family home in New Jersey and relocated to New England, where he soon worked at a crafts store making custom signs at a mall – until the mall raised the rent on the store.

Directly after, he found himself working for a Quirk automobile dealership on South Willow Street, selling trucks. Each morning, he would take a tour of the property with a notepad in hand to see what new vehicles may have arrived in order to give any customers the most up-to-date information he could. While there, he became acclimated to his job, receiving training, learning more about automobiles.

It was this experience which allowed him to accept a position as manager at Union Street Auto in Manchester, a position he has held for the last four and a half years.

Last year, at the beginning of March, he expected business to pick up. People usually get their tax returns around that time of year. With an influx of cash, some people decide to trade their old vehicles for newer ones. The used vehicles, sold at the dealership, are then re-sold to Union Street Auto and other places like it.

Once the used vehicles arrive, they are then worked on and inspected to make sure everything is in working order with them. This process can take hours, or days. Once in working order, vehicles are put out into the lot for sale. 

“We buy them, fix them, and sell them,” Gerges said.

Photo/Winter Trabex

Cars of various makes and models are sold; customers often come in from out of state looking for a specific vehicle. Others simply want something to drive.

On March 1 of 2020, Peter had every expectation that the coming month would be just like any other. Tax returns would come in, inventory would increase, and sales would pick up. This had been the case in previous years – until a COVID-19 state of emergency was declared on March 13.

For half of March until the end of April, business was dead. No customers came to Union Street Auto to purchase any vehicles. There were no leads for new inventory. The future, once certain and sure, had become incredibly uncertain. Bills were piling up – both for the business and for the lives of Peter, upon whose family his job depends. The owner, John Mark, had been in business for 32 years, and had never seen a time like that before.

“If we don’t sell cars, we don’t make money,” Gerges said. “This is what we do for a living.”

Fortunately, Union Street Auto was able to access a Paycheck Protection Program loan, which helped them cover their expenses and get back on track. By the time summer rolled around, business started getting back to normal- as normal as it can be during an unprecedented pandemic, at least.

Missing from business transactions is a handshake, which can serve as a symbol of agreement and an indicator of a person’s character. Much of what Peter does at Union Street Auto is to build trust between the business and the community. The business does buy vehicles at auction for this reason – there’s too much chance of buying a car with an unknown issue which may later affect a customer’s experience. Having another pair of eyes on the car before it even becomes inventory helps ensure this happens as infrequently as possible.

The office at Union Street Autos where many deals have been sealed with a handshake – with the exception of 2020. Photo/Winter Trabex

Vehicles the dealership purchases which are not in good shape, these are placed at the back of the lot with a sign saying “repair needed.” These are often sold to individuals familiar with car repair who can fix it up themselves.

Lately, business for the dealership has been really good. They are well ahead of where they were last year. Part of this has to do with the third round of stimulus money, which began on March 19 and is still ongoing. What Peter expected to happen last year has begun happening this year: business has picked up, which has been a benefit for both the business, the people working there, and the community in general.

“This year, we had a strong month,” Gerges said, laughing. “Not too many people were bargaining like they usually do. Everybody needs something. We see that, as soon as people get their money, we start getting more sales. If you don’t have the money as a customer, I’m not going to have the money as a business.”

An antique car on display at Union Street Auto.