Bean Town dealers overcome many obstacles to stay successful BOSTON - History is everywhere in this 300-year-old metropolis, which is the cradle of American liberty and the home of one of the last great old ballparks, Fenway.

But it's absolute hell to drive in. Parking? Forget about it!

It's amazing that any of Boston's 600,000 citizens would want to buy or drive a car at all. In the oldest part of town, the streets are paved-over horse paths, no wider than they were when Paul Revere hit the road.

The main highway through town, the I-93 Central Artery, is in the midst of a 15-year re-do called the "Big Dig," which makes navigating the city a nightmare. By the time the project is complete in 2004, however, the current elevated I-93 will be replaced with an underground highway and a third tunnel to Logan Airport. It's something just about all three million people of metropolitan Boston look forward to.

Despite all of this transportation agony, Bean Town dealers, which number 47, are thriving.

"Dealers are doing very well," says David Williams, executive director of the 537-member Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association (MSADA). "The local economy is hot. The dot-coms are driving the economy and real estate is hotter than hot."

A city unemployment rate of 2.9% (the lowest since 1987) and a state average personal income of $35,551 (third-highest in the country) makes for a great vehicle-selling environment.

Scott Schulman of Best Chevrolet in Hingham, MA, south of the city, says, "We're in a boom, especially the way Boston is right now. And this market is just crazy. The high-line stuff is probably doing a lot better than we are. This market is tough."

Like their counterparts on the West Coast, Boston dealers have to contend with customers who are more likely to consider an import vehicle first.

"The Midwest is more domestic-minded than the coasts," says Mr. Schulman, who also sells Isuzu and Daewoo. "We are a very compact area. It's a lot like San Francisco. It's as populated as any area in the country and as diverse as any area in the country. Our cost of living is high. The cost of our labor and the cost of our insurance is very high."

Despite these extra costs of doing business, Boston is no different than any other part of the country, according to megadealer Ernest J. Boch.

"I don't think Boston is unique," Mr. Boch says. "I don't think it's different than anywhere else in the country. I really don't. It's all people, the people you're dealing with and the people you hire. I think it's the same wherever you go. I think I can go to California or Texas or anywhere and do a good job. It's how good you are yourself and how determined you are to succeed."

Like dealer associations around the country, MSADA is working on legislation at the state level to keep ambitious manufacturer ownership and Internet plans in check.

"We're in the process of drafting franchise law changes," says Mr. Williams. "The primary thrust of the legislation is to maintain the integrity of the franchise system."