'Car Guy,' Actor Mark Wahlberg Talks About Opening Mark Wahlberg Chevrolet of Avon in Ohio

'Car Guy,' Actor Mark Wahlberg Talks About Opening Mark Wahlberg Chevrolet of Avon in Ohio

Actor Mark Wahlberg has always wanted to be in the car business.

Now, along with his film career and multiple other business ventures under his belt, Wahlberg and business partner/car dealer Jay Feldman have added the newly christened Mark Wahlberg Chevrolet of Avon to their portfolio.

Wahlberg and Feldman, who owns The Jay Feldman Automotive Group of 15 dealerships in the metro Detroit area, added the former Joe Firment Chevrolet on Chester Road to their four existing Columbus-area car dealerships this week. The dealership celebrated its grand opening under the new branding July 7.

The dealership had been in the Firment family for 40 years, ever since Joe Firment purchased Poklar Chevy on Grove Avenue in Lorain in 1981.

In a conference call July 7, Wahlberg said he was "very excited" to expand into the Cleveland automotive market, "especially with someone like Jay who's taught me a lot about the car business."

"I can't wait to go visit the store," he told reporters participating in the call.

Born and raised in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston and now living in Los Angeles, Wahlberg said Ohio is "like a second home," and that he identifies with the "real people" of Ohio.

"I've always stayed connected to real people," he said. "I live in LA because I'm in the movie business but I've always stayed connected to real people. I'm more comfortable and more at home in places like Ohio."

A self-described "car guy," Wahlberg said he bought his first car, a Pontiac LeMans, for $200 the day he got his driver's license. He sold that for $275 and bought another car for $300, which he later traded in for another. And so on.

He continued upgrading, he said, until he had owned "18 cars in one year." He also spent time working at an auto body shop, a tune-up shop and driving a tow truck to make money.

"My dream was to buy a new car," Wahlberg said.

Three Wahlberg dealerships now are Chevrolet-branded, with a GMC/Buick dealership and an Airstream and RV dealership also in the mix.

So why the Chevrolet brand?

"I've had a love for all makes of cars, especially for American-made cars," Wahlberg said. His "sizable" collection of cars currently includes two Chevrolets, "a beautiful Tahoe" and a Suburban "for daily driving," as well as a GMC Acadia, he said.

With Chevrolet, he said two of his interests crossed paths when he did the "Transformers" movie series and got to know Chevrolet's heritage collection of cars.

In the big-budget blockbuster series, good and evil alien robots hide on Earth by taking the forms of cars, trucks and construction equipment. The heroic Autobot Bumblebee, originally a Volkswagen Beetle in the 1980s cartoon series, became a Chevrolet Camaro in the live-action/CGI films of the 2010s.

Feldman said he and Wahlberg first partnered on four dealerships in central Ohio: Three in Columbus and a fourth in Worthington, a Columbus suburb, all branded with the actor's name.

"I found I really like the Ohio market in general," Feldman said. "This opportunity in Avon was brought to our attention six or seven months ago. It was an outstanding dealership, owned for 40 years by the same family that was very well-liked in the community. … It's an amazing facility right on the freeway.

"A lot of people would really love to own this dealership," Feldman added, saying the duo bought Joe Firment Chevrolet "sight unseen."

Feldman said the growth in the area makes it a great opportunity to sell Chevys, and noted it's "not too far" from the partners' existing dealerships in Columbus and Michigan.

Cleveland and Columbus have "similar dynamics" in their automotive markets and are "very healthy, long-term communities with a lot of growth," Feldman said.

"It just so happens we've had five opportunities in Ohio that have made sense, so we've gravitated to those for sure," he said.

"We're super excited about it. It's going to be a great opportunity," Feldman said. "We plan to sell a lot of vehicles there."

There are plans to hire more employees in sales and service positions at the Avon dealership, where a Wahlburgers food truck handed out free cheeseburgers to members of the public who lined up around the building July 7 for a grand opening celebration.

Both also have an interest in bettering the communities in which they do business, Wahlberg and Feldman also made a commitment to charity July 7. They made a donation to Joel's Place for Children, an Avon-based grief support organization that meets every other Tuesday during the school year, starting Sept. 28 this year, at Bay Presbyterian Church in Bay Village.

The first donation will be $5,000 on behalf of the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation and the dealership.

"Obviously we are incredibly honored for this opportunity," said Kathy Stellato, who co-founded Joel's Place for Children with Mary Willhite in 2003 and is a current board member and facilitator for grief support meetings. "We are honored that they thought about us."

The Avon-based nonprofit is not affiliated with the Bay Presbyterian Church but has been allowed to meet there for the last 18 years, Stellato said. It offers community dinners at its meetings, followed by separate, facilitated grief support groups for adults, teens and children.

"This donation is key and a wonderful opportunity" for the group, Stellato said.

"We're really focused on children and children's charities," as well as medical services for children, said Feldman, whose own dealerships donated 1,100 digital tablets to hospitals in Columbus and Michigan during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wahlberg's other showbiz and business interests are wide and varied. Now an Academy Award-nominated (for the 2006 Martin Scorsese film "The Departed") and Golden Globe-nominated (for the 2010 Academy Award-winning film "The Fighter") actor and producer, he is invested in the restaurant chain Wahlburgers with brothers Donnie and Paul, F45 gyms, the nutrition company Performance Inspired, Aquahydrate water, clothing company Municipal and two production companies: Closest to the Hole for film and TV and Unrealistic Ideas for podcasts and documentary series.

He was the highest-paid actor in the world in 2017---$68 million, Forbes Magazine reported at the time, in a year that saw him star in "All the Money in the World," "Daddy's Home 2" and "Transformers: The Last Knight"---and in 2010 was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

In the early 1990s, he was known as Marky Mark with the group Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, which had a certified platinum single with the song "Good Vibrations." That also led him to be an underwear model for Calvin Klein, and he has also done advertisements for GNC nutrition and AT&T mobile.

More business opportunities for the duo are in the works in the Cleveland area, Feldman said.

"We like the market, and would like to expand in Cleveland. We'll have things to announce in the near future," he said.

The dealership has more than 10 acres, 38,000 square feet of showroom, service and parts space and 20 service bays.

Despite a suggestion July 7 that the Wahlburgers restaurant franchise---Feldman and Mark Wahlberg are partners in the downtown Cleveland location---might one day appear in a Mark Wahlberg Chevrolet dealership, the "kill two birds with one stone" idea recommended to the pair by a reporter has not yet seen its time.

"Maybe in close proximity, but not when you're in the service department you're also getting a burger," Wahlberg joked.

"I thought when you asked 'kill birds with one stone,' you were going to ask if I was going to be an actor," Feldman replied.

"Jay's not ready for that," Wahlberg said with a laugh. "He's very good at what he does. Shoemakers sell shoes."

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