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February 19, 2013

Presidents Day can be bellwether for auto dealerships

You’ve seen the signs. And the ads on TV. And online. And in the newspaper.

Yesterday was Presidents Day. The celebration is held on the third Monday in February, which was set as a federal holiday in 1971 to mark the birthday of George Washington, the revolutionary general and first president. President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday is also included in the Presidents Day celebration.

But for years, businesses have used the holiday to boost sales that can be slow in the middle of the winter.

“It started with some car dealers in Boston. The winter doldrums set in and they wanted to kick in something to get people out,” said Charles Daher Sr., owner of Commonwealth Motors in Lawrence.

Legend has it, said Daher and Joe Cullinan, the sales manager at Regan Ford in Haverhill, that Gov. Alvan Fuller, who served from 1925 to 1929, started the trend with his car dealership on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, offering discounts for shoppers on Washington’s Birthday.

Many people have a three-day weekend, and the hangover from spending for the Christmas season has just about worn off. It has turned out to be a good time for retailers to introduce spring lines and for car dealerships to kick off their sales season.

Presidents Day incentives, like discounted prices and low interest rates on loans, started as a way to get people into stores and showrooms during the winter. They have created a huge weekend for dealerships and a potential gauge for the rest of the year. For some, it’s considered the biggest weekend.

“It’s really important, not only from a monthly standpoint, but it helps set the tone for the year,” said Dan Forget, co-owner of Salem Nissan in Salem, N.H. “As a dealership in the middle of the winter in New England, you’re at the bay of the winter. People don’t want to get out and look at cars. Presidents Day comes along, and it’s a huge weekend in the middle of winter. March is next, and this is one of the kick starts of an eight-month sales season.”

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