Zappia, KOI fill former Trotwood dealership

KOI Auto Parts has purchased the former Salem Chrysler-Jeep dealership at 5010 Salem Ave. and opened a store there. The store occupies most of the former dealership.

John Zappia, 47, is leasing a portion of the building from KOI and selling used cars there. Zappia is also leasing a couple of bays in the former service center part of the original dealership where he and another mechanic continue to work on cars from loyal customers.

“I think this is a great fit,” Zappia said. “It’s a win for us, for KOI, for Trotwood.”

Headquartered in Cincinnati, KOI has 80 locations, including two in Riverside at 1654 Springfield St. and 2200 Valley Pike, and another at 7557 Brandt Pike in Huber Heights.

The company, whose name is derived from its main markets of Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana (as well as West Virginia) was ranked as the 12th largest auto parts dealership in the country last year and is planning to add more stores. Earlier this year, KOI entered the Columbus market with three stores.

The Trotwood location will employ up to 20 employees, company officials said. While it will have a retail operation for walk-in customers in the former showroom, the store will primarily sell parts to local garages.

“We looked at some other sites,” said Tom Tomilson, the KOI vice president of store operations. “We liked this one and this building. It’s a nice size (more than 30,000 square feet) and it’s well-kept.”

Carl Daugherty, Trotwood’s director of planning and zoning, who has been able to reopen several empty buildings in the Salem Avenue area, said, “There’s a lot of commercial availability and businesses aren’t inclined to buy new. It’s all kind of connected.”

The Zappia building had been for sale for nearly three years when KOI bought it last spring. Tomlinson said his company has put about $1.5 million into the project.

The Zappia family operated the Chrysler dealership at the site for 43 years when in 2009 Chrysler, then bankrupt, sent an overnight letter informing the Zappias that the company was revoking the dealership’s right to sell new Chrysler products.

The patriarch of the family, Mel, had died in 2006, but his wife Mary Kay and sons John and Dan had carried on. After the letter arrived, they had to liquidate 200 new cars (mostly to other dealerships), let go of nearly 50 employees and shut down the location.

John Zappia kept a small shop in the back for customers who continued to return for service, and later hired a second mechanic. He also had a few used cars on the lot, eventually expanding that inventory to more than 50 cars.

He calls it Zappia Motors and reworked his father’s advertising slogan from “Mel Zappia Cares” to “Where Caring is a Tradition.”

He, like KOI, wants to expand his business, but not let it become too big.

“We’re trying to carry on our father’s legacy,” Zappia said. “I don’t want to have the biggest used car lot. I want to have the best.”

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