It's Bye, Bye To Bel-Kirk Motors -- Kirkland Landmark Sold To Another Dealer

After more than 30 years, one of the most familiar parts of the Kirkland landscape is going to disappear.

Bel-Kirk Motors has been sold.

The new owner is Barrier Motors of Bellevue.

That means that within a year, the "Volvo" sign that has stood atop the building at Central Way and Lake Street since 1959 will be gone, said Bill Petter, Bel-Kirk owner, who has run the business for 28 years.

"It's the end of an era," he said. "The town's been good to me, and I've been good to the town. But they'll be out of here within a year."

Bel-Kirk sells Volvos and Saabs but handled Datsun for 20 years and also sold Fiats before the Italian automaker pulled out of the American market. Barrier is a Mercedes and Infiniti dealer.

Petter said he made the change after thinking about it the past two years.

"The factory's been leaning on me for more than 10 years," he said, explaining that Volvo wanted its cars sold through a bigger dealership, probably based in Bellevue.

Downtown Kirkland, once the largest city on the Eastside, had such major auto dealerships as Hall's Motors, selling Fords, and Lee Johnson, selling Chevrolets.

Hall's disappeared years ago, and Lee Johnson moved up on Rose Hill to be near a freeway interchange, leaving Bel-Kirk as the only downtown dealer.

Petter said the sign has been there since at least 1959. Petter, who grew up in Seattle, got into the car business by going to work at Ravenna Motors, a North Seattle Volvo dealer, after serving in the Navy.

He spent nine years with Ravenna, then bought an existing Volvo dealership, Bel-Kirk, in 1963.

He started with three employees; now there are 52, and, with their friends and families, they filled the Bel-Kirk showroom at an end-of-business party Saturday night. The dealership was to reopen today as Barrier Motors. Many of Petter's employees have been with him more than 20 years, and all of them - except Petter - have been offered jobs with Barrier.

Petter, 60, said he expects to take some property-management classes and then start a new career; his son, Terry, 31, who has been with Bel-Kirk 18 years, will be going to work for Barrier.

Petter said he doesn't know what's to become of the old Bel-Kirk facilities, but he said it's unlikely they'll ever again be operated as a new-car dealership because they're too small.

Bel-Kirk runs two showrooms, one for Saabs and one for Volvos. Together, they occupy about 48,000 square feet, or little more than an acre. Petter said most new-car dealerships need at least three to four acres to operate.

Petter said he's going to remain a community fixture. He's probably one of the few car dealers in the country who walks to work, and he can be seen strolling Lake Washington Boulevard on his way to his office nearly every morning from his Houghton-area house.

He said he's going to keep his office upstairs at the dealership and will continue to be active in community organizations.

Finally, the sale means the end of the Bel-Kirk jingle - "We don't wear ties and we don't tell lies."

Petter shakes his head at how the slogan is now more than 20 years old, but it seems to have worked. Petter sold cars to customers with names like Skinner and Weyerhaeuser, both well-known in the Seattle community. Usually, Petter's low-key approach to life and business meant he'd sell about 600 to 1,200 cars a year.

Now it's over.

"I'm happy," he says.