After 102 years, Arena Buick-GMC will close Jan. 31
I was sitting in the classic showroom of Arena Buick-GMC, the town’s last new car dealership, on January 21, just days before its scheduled closing. The showroom is an Art Deco masterpiece inside and out, a 1948 postwar beauty that received a renovation on its exterior that was pictured in this newspaper in December.
We were looking at old photographs, both in print and on screen. Myself, Arena Buick-GMC Owner Joseph Arena Jr. (who is my first cousin) and longtime salesman Andy Storms were picking out some photos. They include the one from 1955, when the place was an Oldsmobile agency that accompanies the article about Arena Buick-GMC’s closure in the News section this week and the original Arena Auto Service building located at the same spot on the White Horse Pike (Route 30) where the Arenas have sold cars since 1920. That second photo is in the Hammonton’s History section this week, on page 37 of Our Town.
I haven’t bought every car I’ve owned from Arena Buick-GMC, but between my wife Gina and I, we have bought four cars there, including the last two she purchased and the last one I bought. It always felt good to buy from family and locally. One time I pulled up in front of a business owned by another cousin and he remarked respectfully: “Ah, an Arena Buick.”
Was the place a throwback? Yes, it was. Cousin Joe and his wife Rose worked there, and several of the other employees had worked there for decades. When you bought a car there, you received personal service, and that continued through the years you had the vehicle.
One time my car’s battery died behind my house. I called Joe and he came by on a snowy, icy day in the dead of winter, with a jump pack. Think I’d get that level of service anywhere else? No way.
During the 25-plus years of selling ads in Hammonton, visiting Arena Buick-GMC was a favorite stop. There was plenty of good conversation, and it was an enjoyably unique place to visit.
I know I am far from the only person who feels that way, that walking into the Art Deco landmark building that jutted into the highway like the bow of some big, graceful ship because of its location on the point created where the White Horse Pike met Main Road was a special experience. Actually, just driving by it made you smile, especially at night where the same neon sign Dominick Pitera put up in 1948 flashed “ARENA” to people driving by, as it had when Harry S. Truman was president.
As of now, there is no news about what’s next for the location. My hope is that it is something that continues to contribute to the uptown area on the pike, and to the town as a whole.
How consistent was Arena Automotive and the Arena Family? They did business in the same location since 1920. Here is their listing in three local phone books spanning more than 100 years:
1921 Official Directory of the Hammonton Telephone & Telegraph Co.: There is a full-page ad that reads “Salvatore Arena Agent, Hammonton New Jersey Elcar and Dort ‘Quality Goes Clear Through’”
1950-51 Clark’s City Directory: ARENA AUTO SERVICE (Salvatore and Angelo Arena) Oldsmobile Motor Cars – International Harvester Trucks 227 S. White Horse Pike Tel 707
2021-22 Hammonton Phone Directory: ARENA BUICK-GMC 227 S. White Horse Pike 561-0707
Now, that’s consistency.
There aren’t many other local businesses—or businesses anywhere—that can boast of doing business in the same location, with the same phone number, while being owned by the same family.
Hammonton was fortunate to have several new car dealerships, and fortunate to have the Arena Family running the one that lasted the longest. Their business was a landmark, but it was their family that maintained the deep connection to the town and area for so many decades, and kept the customers coming back, generation after generation.
I’ll close this column with the words of my cousin Joseph Arena Jr., who posted this statement online on January 3, 2023:
“Arena Buick-GMC will be exiting the new car business on January 31, 2023.
“Since its inception, the automobile has been a continuously evolving product. It is interwoven into the fabric of our American history.
“Our business was started in December 1920.
“For over 102 years the Arena Family has had a front row seat in the Auto’s impact on our technology and our culture.
“The auto industry has always been at the forefront of change.
“This decision was not an easy one for us to make.
“As a small, family-owned business, our relationships with our employees, customers and vendors have been more than merely “just doing business.”
“It has always been very personal.
“Words cannot express what those relationships have meant to our family.
“We are very thankful and appreciative to one and all.
“Thank you all for the great ride!
“Joseph J. Arena, Jr.”
Gabriel J. Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.