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Felix Chevrolet LP
Los Angeles, California
“I have put all my efforts into this industry for the last 23 years, and I was able to witness so many exciting things while continuing to be a historian and an intellectual.”
“Felix Chevrolet is the oldest franchise dealership in Los Angeles and will be 100 years old in 2021,” nominee Holter said. “Our family is committed to bringing this iconic store back to its former glory.”
Holter is a 1965 graduate of Southwest High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He earned a B.A. in 1970 and an M.A. in 1973 from the University of Minnesota, also in Minneapolis, where he was a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity. Holter also received a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin - Madison in 1980.
When Holter and his wife, Carole Shammas, moved to Los Angeles in 1991, they were both history professors and furthering their careers at UCLA and USC, respectively. They never thought that they would become part of an historic turnaround of a beloved Los Angeles neighborhood.
“My father-in-law, Nick Shammas, acquired Felix Chevrolet in 1955, which at the time was an anchor on Figueroa Street, known as Auto Row,” Holter said. The dealership was distinguished by its famous Felix the Cat sign, which was erected by the original owner, Winslow B. Felix, who was friends with the cartoon cat’s creator. Shammas added more downtown dealerships to his portfolio, but by 1995, the neighborhood was in decline.
“In 1927, there were 50 automobile dealerships on Figueroa Street and in 1995, there were really only five left,” Holter said. Shammas asked Holter to leave his academic job and help to stabilize the businesses. Holter agreed. His plan was to save the family business, revitalize the neighborhood and bring economic development back to Figueroa Street once again.
And he succeeded. Over the next two decades, he worked to reorganize and expand the dealership business while investing in the neighborhood. In 2017, seven of the eight Shammas family downtown Los Angeles dealerships were sold – all except for Felix Chevrolet.
“We decided not to sell Felix Chevrolet because this was where my parents-in-law had begun their journey and it was sentimental to my wife,” he said. “Now we can focus all of our attention on this one dealership and help it thrive once again.”
Holter helped bring the neighborhood back by forming the Figueroa Corridor Business Improvement District in 1998, which consisted of 105 property owners and businesses. The plan was to make the area clean, safe and ready for reinvestment.
“Within five years after the formation of the district, more than $3 billion new investment flowed into the area, greatly stimulating the vibrant economic revival of Downtown LA and providing us with 75,000 new auto customers in our backyard,” he said of the revitalization that included the building of the Staples Center.
For this historic turnaround, Holter has garnered numerous awards and commendations from the city of Los Angeles, from the State of California and even from the United States House of Representatives.
He is most proud of receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Greater Los Angeles New Car Dealers Association in 2018. “I never intended to become an automobile dealer,” Holter said. “I have put all my efforts into this industry for the last 23 years, and I was able to witness so many exciting things while continuing to be a historian and an intellectual.”
In addition to his work for the Figueroa Corridor, Holter’s company also contributes tens of thousands of dollars of donations to community-based programs, hospitals, homeless shelters, and police and veterans’ groups.
Holter was nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award by Bob Smith, executive director of the Greater Los Angeles New Car Dealers Association. He and his wife, Carole, have two children.