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Auto shop owner hopes to rezone new building for retail

Tom Kardon fought for years to win rezoning for new store but now must alter plans
Tuesday, July 14, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 2:34 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Tom Kardon Sr. poses for a portrait inside Tom's Imports repair shop. Kardon is in the process of opening a parts store at 1001 N. Providence Road, freeing up space in his old shop. However, he was refused loans to purchase equipment to open the new parts store.

COLUMBIA — Tom Kardon spent more than a decade trying to build an auto parts store on the corner of Third Avenue and Providence Road. The building is now complete, but Kardon still has obstacles to face before he can open his shop.

Kardon is the owner of Tom’s Imports, an auto shop that sells parts for German-made cars. He planned to sell parts for a wider variety of import cars at the new store, but economic conditions have prevented him from opening it.

“The economy’s bad so I’m afraid to open it,” Kardon said. “That’s the problem. I can’t get a loan to open it. They (the bank) wouldn’t even loan me enough money for the building.”

About four weeks ago, Kardon said, he went to a bank seeking a loan to cover the costs of his initial inventory. He said he was told that the bank couldn’t loan him the $500,000 he needed. Kardon doesn’t have the money to pay for his inventory, so his store currently sits empty.

“If the bank loaned me a half-million for parts, I’d open the store tomorrow,” Kardon said. “No bank will loan you money for inventory. They won’t even loan you money for buildings anymore.”

The situation has prompted Kardon to change his original plan for the building. He hopes to use half of the building for an auto parts store and to rent out the other half to a retail business. Renting out half of the building would lower the costs of operating the store and give Kardon the money he needs to pay for his first batch of inventory.

The problem is that Kardon has planned commercial zoning now, which restricts use of the property to an auto parts business. Before he can rent out part of it, he'll have to have the land rezoned.

It won't be a new experience for Kardon. In 1996, Kardon bought the property with the intention of building his auto parts store. The property had two dilapidated houses on it, and Kardon had to have it rezoned for commercial use. He said he immediately encountered opposition from local residents.

Pat Kelley, vice president of the Ridgeway Neighborhood Association, has lived in the area since 1988, long before Kardon first applied for rezoning. She said the neighborhood was divided on whether to oppose Kardon’s plans.

“All of a sudden the neighborhood got to be a war zone with the Kardon supporters and the noncommercial zoning supporters,” Kelley said.

The Columbia City Council, in late 2004, voted to grant Kardon the planned commercial zoning. It was the third time Kardon had applied to have the property rezoned. After the council’s decision, Kardon met with the neighborhood association, and the two sides agreed to a plan for the building.

Kelley said that she won't form an opinion of Kardon’s rezoning plans until she knows exactly what he plans to do with the property, but she’s discouraged by the fact that someone can apply for rezoning so many times.

“I’m really sorry he’s having a hard time, and it’s not what he meant it to be, but it’s not our fault it’s not working out for him,” Kelley said.

Tom Kardon Jr., who works with his father at Tom’s Imports, hopes the neighborhood association won’t oppose rezoning and said the store has been beneficial for the area. 

“We improved the neighborhood 100 percent,” Kardon Jr. said. “It’s worth a lot more now than before.”

Kardon said that, given the economy, Tom’s Imports is doing well at its location on Coats Street near Business Loop 70 East. He hired a mechanic about a month ago, and he said his shop is doing better than a lot of local businesses. Kardon said Columbia doesn’t have a lot of stores that sell parts for imports, and he believes his new store would be successful if he were able to open it.

“The only problem now is the economy,” Kardon said. “If the economy is good, I can sell a lot of parts.”

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