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AAA jump-starts its drive into the car repair business Amherst IDA grants $34,000 in tax breaks

AAA of Western and Central New York is planning to open a car repair service in a dilapidated and vacant building on Eggert Road, giving a new choice to consumers that could also compete with independent repair businesses now endorsed by the auto group.

The new AAA Car Care Plus is slated for 2131 Eggert Road, near Niagara Falls Boulevard, in a building that has a history of environmental problems. It will provide full repair and routine servicing, but will not be a collision or auto body shop.

Now considered an eyesore in the neighborhood, the structure has been vacant since 2003, and is located in a struggling, low-income area the Town Board designated as an Enhancement/Redevelopment Area.

AAA officials said Friday they want to rehabilitate it into an attractive facility that will benefit the community around it.

The shop will be designed to look like AAA's headquarters on International Drive in Williamsville. It's expected to create 14 jobs -- 9 full-time, 5 part-time -- and generate an annual payroll of $600,000.

"We really want to take a corner of Eggertsville and make it better for the people who live and work there," said AAA vice president Jerome Hooven Jr., speaking to the Amherst Industrial Development Agency board. He said AAA considered a site on Genesee Street in Cheektowaga, but prefers Amherst.

The IDA approved a sales tax break for AAA on Friday, allowing it to save $33,643 in taxes on $575,000 in equipment.

Under state law, IDAs can not provide assistance for retail projects, unless they meet one of three criteria, including location in a "distressed" area. IDA executive director James Allen said the AAA project qualified based on a review from the Town Planning Department.

"It has all the characteristics we want in terms of redeveloping older areas of town," Allen said.

Previous tenants were cited for environmental violations and for the poor condition of both the interior and exterior of the building. An environmental analysis was conducted at AAA's request, and the organization agreed not to do collision work at the site and not to dig below the floor. All equipment will be above ground.

"We want to make it as much of a green facility as we can," Hooven said.

This will be the first auto repair facility for AAA of Western and Central New York, but other AAA chapters around the country have previously set up similar shops. It's also the latest venture for the local AAA, which launched an insurance program this year and established its own AAA towing fleets in Syracuse and Buffalo.

The organization said it decided to go into the repair business because consolidation among car dealers locally has left the area with fewer repair bays. That creates delays and inconvenience for scheduling when someone needs work done.

"We feel we'll be able to provide more choices for quality repair," said spokesman Wally Smith. "We're trying to do more and more to assure quality."

But its efforts are leaving some of its approved partners unhappy. Historically, AAA has contracted with independent towing businesses for emergency road service and endorsed certain auto repair shops after examining them for quality.

Those businesses work closely with AAA and can hang a AAA sign outside as an indication of the group's approval. And they're upset that AAA is getting into their business.

"It's absolutely competition," said Tom Madill, general manager of Cleve-Hill Auto & Tire in Buffalo. "It could be significant, because they're going to have their own road service, and they'll be pointing those types of breakdowns to their own shop."

Others, though, aren't worried. "I don't believe they'd be competition to us," said Tony Radish, service manager at Sammy's Auto Repair on West Tupper Street in Buffalo, citing his staff's experience and training.

"They're just not going to open their doors and have that type of skill and labor. It's very difficult to find somebody that qualified in this industry. Most of my customers come to me because we do a good job for them. I've proven myself."

Smith said AAA believes it will "work in tandem" with its approved repair shops, referring business back and forth. He said AAA broached the issue with the shops, and believes they "understand what we're trying to do and understand the goals that we have for this."

"Certainly there were some concerns and certainly we've communicated how we can all work together on this to better all our business," Smith said. "There's always a need to provide quality auto repair service."



>Classifieds Plus gets tax breaks

Classifieds Plus was granted $60,000 in sales tax savings Friday by the Amherst Industrial Development Agency to help the media service company in an expansion that is expected to create at least 105 jobs.

Classifieds Plus plans to build-out and equip 170 Northpointe Parkway, expanding it and connecting it to the company's headquarters location on Sheridan Drive.

The project, which will cost up to $835,000, will add 60 full-time and 45 part-time jobs, and increase payroll to $7.5 million from $4 million.

The media services company manages classified advertising for about 200 newspapers nationwide, taking calls from advertisers and placing the ads. All of its revenue is from outside Erie County, and half is from outside the state.

It's located here now, but the current president lives in North Carolina, so, "the business could be anywhere," said Amherst IDA executive director James Allen. "They want to get this done."

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