GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - The Paynes had already sold the first car at their brand new Mountain Chevrolet dealership, 51359 Highway 6 in West Glenwood, and the place was not even officially open yet.
The sale happened on Wednesday, said dealership owner Michael Payne.
"He was a longtime resident," Payne said of the customer. "He bought a new Suburban, and he traded in an old Suburban on the deal."
On Thursday evening, Payne and his wife, Michelle, held a grand opening party for invited guests from around the area, and the dealership officially opens today.
The new dealership represents the return of Chevrolet to the local auto market, following the departure of the Vista auto group in 2010. Vista sold Chevrolet and Subaru autos.
According to City Council member Steve Bershenyi, Glenwood Springs' first car dealership was a Chevy shop. Payne said he was told that dealership opened about 80 years ago.
Payne, 51, is a son of the legendary Denver car dealer, Leo Payne, who at one time owned 17 dealership franchises in the metro Denver area, each selling a different brand of car.
"I was born into the business," explained Payne with a grin. "The day I was born, he got his first Chevrolet franchise, in Dexter, Mich. And that was the year that Chevrolet turned 50."
While he grew up in the car trade, Payne said he left it in 1991, when his father sold the family business.
After working in telecommunications and owning The Rise nightclub in Denver, Payne was ready to get back into the auto business, he said.
He was awarded his own Chevy franchise in 2011, the year he turned 50 and Chevy turned 100.
Payne, who grew up mostly in Denver, spent a lot of time as a ski racer in Vail.
"I always wanted to live in the mountains, either the Vail area or here," he said.
So, when Chevrolet awarded him a franchise for Glenwood Springs, he jumped at it.
"I've been working on this since shortly after Vista lost its franchise," Payne said, although he did not buy the franchise from Vista.
He also missed out on buying Vista's old Chevy lot, which went to Bighorn Toyota, which will move its dealership to West Glenwood in January.
"So Chevrolet was homeless," Payne said ruefully, until the site of an old motel on Highway 6 came on the market. The site was planned for affordable housing built by the Denver Archdiocese, but the housing deal fell through, and Payne bought the four-acre site.
He declined to say specifically how much he paid for the land, or for the six-month construction project to put up a building that is still not completely finished.
"I'd just like to say it's a multi-million dollar investment into the Glenwood area," Payne said.
Next door, he said, there will be a Honda dealership owned by a friend, but the two businesses are not connected.
The full-service Chevy dealership, with a three-car showroom and a two-acre lot, features a hard-roofed awning at the western side of the structure, covering an area where newly sold cars will be prepped and handed over to their buyers.
The area also boasts an electric charging port for Chevy Volts, the company's $40,000, plug-in hybrid first introduced in 2011.
The building has several green aspects, Payne said, including a 40-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system on the roof and insulated glass between the showroom and the lot that fronts onto Highway 6.
Michelle Payne, 41, who has a business background, will be handling commercial sales, fleet vehicles and community relations for the business, working from an office just down a hallway from the showroom floor.
The interior of the dealership boasts an open feeling that Michael Payne said was designed so "managers can see all their employees, and all their customers, and they can all see me."
On the hardware side of the business equation, there ultimately will be up to 100 new cars and trucks on the lots, and up to 60 used vehicles.
In the back of the building are 10 service stalls and a wash bay, along with a parts department set up to serve the dealership's mechanics and the public from separate counters.
The in-ground lift towers, Payne said, are powered by compressed air and water, eliminating the need for toxic hydraulic fluids and the risk of their leaking into the ground.
Payne said he will be offering courtesy bicycles for customers who leave their vehicles for service appointments, and ultimately plans to offer loaner cars in some situations.
As the interview was winding up, Payne got a visit from Jack Lanning, former owner of two auto dealership in Glenwood Springs back in the 1970s.
"I just wanted to wish you luck in what you do," said Lanning. He shook Payne's hand after swapping a few tales about car sales and other matters.
"Well, thanks," replied Payne.