STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Nick Manfredi, whose father, Joe, once owned the lion’s share of auto dealerships on Staten Island, recently made a tough decision to sell off his last franchise, Manfredi Chevrolet.
“This is an end of a legacy for us. It took me a long time to really process it. There are a lot of emotions attached to it,” said Nick Manfredi, an Annadale resident.
He sold the last of the Manfredi holdings to Island Auto Group — a corporation that in 2015 purchased eight dealerships formerly owned by the Manfredi family.
But the sale wasn’t easy.
“My father had three passions: his family, car business and Italian heritage,” said Manfredi. “My father was an immigrant who came to the United States from Mola di Bari when he was a boy. His father told him, ‘You have to learn a trade.’ And the trade that he wanted to learn was auto mechanics.”
And as one of Staten Island’s largest business owners, the elder Manfredi also had a passion for helping the community.
“He always tried giving back to the community. … He even sponsored a bunch of kids who played soccer to travel to Sicily. Soccer was another one of his passions. …I’m proud to be his son,” he said.
Manfredi said his father recognized that sports play an integral role in teaching children valuable team and leadership skills. That’s why he founded the Mola Sports Club and was a member of the board of directors of the U.S. Soccer Federation. In 1998, he acquired The Staten Island Vipers, an A-League Division Soccer franchise.
“He was my father, my mentor, my boss and my best friend. I’m proud to have walked in his footsteps for a long time, and he made me the man that I am today. And maybe I don’t own a car dealership today, but I’m still going to give back to the community whenever I can,” said a choked-up Manfredi.
Launched in Brooklyn in 1967 by the elder Manfredi, the auto empire began with a single dealership: Safe Rambler. Then just before the gas crunch hit, the elder Manfredi took on a Toyota franchise in Brooklyn.
“Back then, not too many people bought Japanese cars,” said Manfredi. “And I guess when the gas crunch hit, people realized these smaller, more compact cars were better on gas than the domestics, and it really took off.”
Manfredi’s first franchise on Staten Island was a Subaru dealership, and in 1987 he purchased an Island-based Toyota dealership.
From there, the elder Manfredi built an auto empire that included: Manfredi Chevrolet in New Dorp; Staten Island Subaru and Manfredi Chrysler Jeep Dodge in Grasmere; Fiat of Staten Island, Manfredi Hyundai, Manfredi Kia, Manfredi Mazda, Manfredi Mitsubishi, Manfredi Scion and Staten Island Toyota, all in Dongan Hills.
But in 2015 amid a deal with Island Auto Group to purchase all but the Chevrolet dealership, Joe Manfredi died.
“We were in contract, and unfortunately, my father passed away, right in the middle of it,” recalled Manfredi. “And what we had decided to do as a family was to keep one dealership, which was Chevrolet.”
Soon after, in a multi-million dollar deal, Island Auto Group purchased eight Staten Island-based automobile dealerships in Grasmere and Dongan Hills that were formerly owned by the Manfredi family. Under the Island Auto Group umbrella are Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Ram, Commercial Trucks, Subaru, Mazda, Hyundai, Kia, Toyota and Volkswagen.
Manfredi recently decided to sell off the last piece of the empire he helped build with his father.
“My wife, Christine, passed away eight years ago. I have three daughters, a 15-year-old and twins who are 12. Like my father, my priority is my family,” he said of his decision to sell the Chevrolet dealership.
The deal was finalized last week.
“As a family we felt that Island Auto Group is a great fit for Chevrolet,” said Manfredi.
“My father made that decision to sell the franchises to them. And that’s why I ran forward, and then sold the last franchise to them. … The relationship was already there. They’re great owner/operators, in my opinion, and they give back to the community just like my father did,” he added.
Said Marcello Sciarrino, parter of Island Auto Group, which owns 20 dealerships in the Northeast: “When we bought all the [Manfredi] dealerships, we wanted to buy Chevy, but Mr. Manfredi wanted to keep one of the stores. But we’ve always coveted Chevy; we always wanted to make it part of our family. … We consider ourselves a family-owned business. We operate like a big business, but we also operate like a family business, just like the Manfredis.”
Since opening, Island Auto Group has begun renovation projects at each of the borough dealerships to make them more customer-friendly.
“We have self check-in kiosks at all of our service departments, so you never even have to see a person. It’s like when you go to the airport and get your ticket from a kiosk. You put your information in, drop off your keys and walk out. It’s something we did during COVID and it has really worked out,” said Sciarrino, referring to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
And, among other services, all Island Auto Group websites are interactive, and customers can even purchase a car online, he said.
As part of Island Auto Group’s mission, the company formed an aggressive community outreach program to help local Staten Island businesses and causes, including an initiative during the heart of the coronavirus pandemic where they were supplying first responders with free loaner cars to get to and from work.
“We closed down for about six weeks during the height of COVID. And when that happened, we had taken our whole entire loaner fleet and offered it to all first responders,” said Sciarrino. “There were a lot of first responders who weren’t comfortable taking the subway. And that [an Island Auto Loaner] was their main means of getting back and forth to work. … It felt good to help the community during that horrific time.”