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Phillips Chevrolet Continues Long Legacy, Acquires Second Dealership

Phillips Chevrolet began in 1968, but the Chevy legacy in Frankfort goes back to the early 1900s. Now, Phillips continues to expand after acquiring Ridgeway Chevrolet in Lansing.

A look at the Frankfort car dealership, which became Phillips Chevrolet in 1968.
A look at the Frankfort car dealership, which became Phillips Chevrolet in 1968.
For 45 years, the Frankfort-based Phillips Chevrolet has expanded its presence in Illinois, and the awards lately are a testament to that: 

It's the No. 1 Chevrolet dealer in Illinois since 2006, and in 2011-12 it ranked in the top 10 in the country out of 3,200 dealerships. For the past seven years Phillips has also been named Dealer of the Year by Chevrolet. 

Now, Phillips has acquired Ridgeway Chevrolet in Lansing, again expanding its already large customer base. Phillips coincidentally closed the deal on the Lansing location (17730 Torrence Ave.) on Oct. 1, the same day Phil and Shirley Pascarella bought the Frankfort dealership. General Manager Mike Maheras wants sales to be another commonality of the two locations. 

"People were already driving here from all over to buy their cars," Maheras said. "Our plan now is to be the No. 1 and No. 2 dealers in the state."

A Long Legacy

The addition of the Lansing location is the latest move in the ever-growing legacy of Chevrolet in the south suburbs of Chicago. The origin of the Chevrolet dealership franchise in Frankfort began in the second decade of the 1900s, though an exact date wasn't available. A.C. Bauch operated the dealership in what is now The Trolley Barn in historic downtown Frankfort. 

According to a history kept by Phillips, that building originally was used as the streetcar repair place when the streetcars ran east from an electric park in Plainfield to near the Indiana border.

In the ‘20s the franchise went to Heusner and Magic Chevrolet, which is currently the Frankfort police station. They also operated the international Harvester Farm Equipment Sales. At the same time, the A.C. Bauch owner took on the local Ford franchise.

Heusner and Magic sold it to the Walter Haas family, a well-known farming family from the Homer area, in the early ‘50s, but the agency was purchased by Robert Trump in 1952 following a sudden illness to Mr. Haas. 

Happy Bettenhausen, who has now worked for Phillips Chevrolet for about 40 years and keeps a written history of the dealership, even sold a few cars for Trump when he operated Happy’s Body Shop in Tinley Park. The Warning brothers brought new ownership to the dealership in 1962, and in '63 they added Happy's group with a new body shop. Five years later the Pascarellas bought the dealership, and they moved to the location at Route 30 and La Grange Road in 1971. 

'It's the People'

Maheras, now the general manager for the Frankfort and Lansing locations, joined Phillips Chevrolet in 1997 after working as a Chevy dealer in Midlothian. He says the team of people at Phillips is what drives its success.

“Our success story is the people, our team," he said. "Everyone knows their responsibilities. We promote from within. Almost all of our managers worked for me at a lower capacity first.”

Happy Bettenhausen is certainly the symbol of pride in that team and the ongoing legacy and history in the dealership. After starting as the body shop arm of the local Chevrolet in the '60s, he's now as well known as anyone there and works as a sales consultant, coffee-maker, accordion-player, history-keeper and PR guy. On his Phillips employee page, he says his favorite car is Chevrolet, of course, and that he's owned more than 50

"It’s just a great place to be after all these years," Happy says in a Phillips video. "I have the urge to work every morning. I’m off a couple of days and I’m ready to get back there."

The salesperson of the year for 12 straight years has sold more than 7,500 Chevrolets in his career and has been a part of more than 130 parades for the dealership. In February 2013 he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by Phillips Chevrolet. 

Maheras said Phillips maintains its success because of its customer service and involvement in the community. Chevrolet actually partners with Disney World to send employees to the Disney customer service training, and it stays involved with sponsorships, gift donations and more. 

He said the dealership has always been able to adapt quickly, whether it's been adding an online sales department early on or texting with millennials to access them how they're most comfortable. All of that's led customers to spread the word about Phillips and helped make it the most successful Chevy dealer in the state.

"Customers can expect integrity, no nonsense," Maheras said. "We try not to complicate it. With that, the word travels."

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