Joe Rizza Ford, a cornerstone of the North Riverside business community for the past four decades, officially severed ties with the village on Feb. 20 when Rizza inked a deal to sell the well-known car dealership at 2100 Harlem Ave. to the owners of McCarthy Ford, a family-owned and operated dealership on Chicago’s far South Side.
Rizza still owns the almost 7-acre property that houses the dealership and is leasing it to McCarthy Ford, which will be operated by John and Ray LeFevour, the president and store manager, respectively.
North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. said Rizza informed village officials several months ago that a deal for the sale of the dealership was in the works. Once a Chicago-are sales powerhouse, the North Riverside dealership had been underperforming in recent years, despite a $3.5 million remodeling project Rizza undertook in 2007 to bring in a Lincoln-Mercury line.
John LeFevour confirmed that McCarthy Ford closed on the purchase of the North Riverside dealership on Feb. 21, and a temporary sign went up on the building along Harlem Avenue that day.
“We love the location,” said LeFevour, a south Oak Park native and current River Forest resident who still has strong family ties to the area. “We know the enormous amount of potential it has.”
At one time, said LeFevour, Joe Rizza Ford sold 300 or more new and used cars per month. Getting back the sales volume to those levels is doable still in North Riverside, he said.
“There’s so much traffic here; it’s obviously an extremely busy corner with the mall and all of the new restaurants,” LeFevour said. “I think that 300-car mark [per month] is definitely attainable.”
The LeFevours are first generation car dealers, having bought their first location in Chicago’s Mount Greenwood neighborhood at 115th and Pulaski 13 years ago. Ray cut his teeth selling cars for Jerry Gleason Chevy in Forest Park just out of college, and John followed his brother to Golf Mill Ford before the two decided to buy the small, South Side neighborhood dealership.
When they bought the dealership, LeFevour said it was selling 30 to 40 vehicles a month. Now it’s up to about 180 cars a month on a site that is less than half the size of the North Riverside dealership and which is enveloped on three sides by two schools and a cemetery.
Rizza opened his flagship dealership in North Riverside in January 1978 and, according to Dan McMillan, the CFO of Joe Rizza Enterprises, “it took off from the beginning.”
The company eventually expanded, operating seven other franchises. Rizza wasn’t necessarily seeking a buyer, said McMillan, but he felt the time was right when contacted by Ray LeFevour. Rizza wants to concentrate his efforts on his dealerships in Orland Park and Tinley Park, said McMillan, but leaves North Riverside with fond memories and many friends.
“Joe wishes everyone well,” McMillan said. “He leaves with a heavy heart, but it was a very good 39 years.”
Hermanek said of Rizza, “There will never be a better friend in business for the village,” and thanked him for his longtime support for the North Riverside Mayor’s Youth Scholarship Program. Rizza covered many of the expenses related to the annual golf outing that raises money to help expenses for local college students and provides assistance with daycare program costs for local families in need.
The car dealership is an important sales tax revenue generator, however, and Hermanek said he’s looking forward to the LeFevours’ efforts to reinvigorate sales there.
The dealership owns a long, narrow strip on land behind Goodwill, which is essentially unused now but that can expand the dealership’s used car line, said LeFevour.
LeFevour said McCarthy Ford wants to connect more with potential customers right outside their front door.
“This store does not sell enough of its community cars,” LeFevour said. “We want to sell people in this area cars. There are 10 times the homeowners here than where we are now. It’s a huge opportunity, but it’s going to take a little time.”
Hermanek said the village would support the dealership’s plans to expand back behind Goodwill.
“If they have designs on putting that to use, the village will do whatever it can to facilitate that,” Hermanek said.