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With its business in new location booming, Bel Air Auto Auction hosts visit from the governor

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The Bel Air Auto Auction in Riverside hummed with activity Thursday afternoon as auctioneers sought bids on vehicles in their rapid-fire cadence and one vehicle after another moved along the lanes past the auctioneer’s stand.

All of the facility’s 10 auction lanes were open for the regular Thursday sale as crowds of people gathered to offer bids. The Auto Auction sells primarily to dealerships and commercial businesses such as manufacturers, banks and rental companies, but individuals can also place bids.

Gov. Larry Hogan visited the facility around noon Thursday, toward the end of the weekly sale. On hand to greet him were state legislators, Harford County Council members and County Executive Barry Glassman and some of his top aides, along with members of the Nichols family that owns the auction and their employees.

“He’s a great friend of business,” Raymond C. Nichols, one of the auto auction’s owners, said of the governor, who is seeking re-election to a second term. “He understands the need of the people, but he also understands the needs of business.”

Bel Air Auto Auction, which was founded in Bel Air in 1947, opened its new and expanded facility on a 185-acre side off of Route 7 in Belcamp last September. The old complex, which sprawls along Route 1 just went of the Bel Air town limits, is vacant and is expected to eventually be redeveloped, according to the Nichols family and town officials.

Since the move 11 months ago, the auto auction has experienced increases in the number of buyers, with easier access from Interstate 95 being a plus, according to the owners.

The Auto Auction has been owned by a parent company BSC America since 1980. Raymond C. Nichols is the chairman and CEO; his son, R. Charles Nichols, is president and his daughter, S. Michelle Nichols-Neff, is executive vice president. All three are owners and partners in the business, according to Raymond Nichols, whose grandson, Stephen, works as the Riverside facilities manager.

About 500 people work at the flagship auction site; that property is part of the Riverside Business Park that is home to multiple large industrial and distribution centers. First developed in the 1980s, it was one of the first sites north of Baltimore to attract large scale distribution faciliities.

BSC had been planning for a number of years to move from the former home on 40 acres in Bel Air, as they were outgrowing that property.

Raymond Nichols said Riverside has been “a really, really great community to be in,” with its proximity to I-95, other industrial facilities and local hotels where out-of-state buyers can stay a day or two before the Thursday auction.

The company provides transportation from regional airports such as BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, Philadelphia International Airport and Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia, Michelle Nichols-Neff said.

“It’s been great for the economy,” Nichols-Neff said of being in Riverside.

The site handles more than 2,500 units, or vehicles, per week, and holds weekly sales on Thursdays, monthly Tuesday sales which are open to the public, and then sales for General Motors dealerships only every other Wednesday.

A satellite auction site, Clayton Station in Edgewood, handles more than 400 units a week, and a second site in Tallahassee, Fla., handles more than 500 units weekly, according to fact sheets provided by BSC America.

The Auto Auction “manages the flow” of more than 100,000 vehicles per year, according to the company website. About 10,000 more vehicles have been sold, compared to the same time last year, since the move to Riverside, according to Raymond Nichols, who said they expect to handle more than 120,000 vehicles in 2018.

About 250 additional jobs were created when the Riverside facility opened. The new site has more space for parking, compared to Bel Air. That, plus improvements to Philadelphia Road and proximity to I-95 have allowed more buyers, such as national dealers and government entities, to visit, according to Jacqueline A. Delisle, an attorney for the parent company.

Hogan’s visit Thursday was the middle of a tour through Baltimore, Cecil and Harford counties that also included the US Lacrosse headquarters in Sparks, the Perry Point VA Hospital in Perryville, where the governor helped dedicate a new veterans housing complex, and WXCY radio in Havre de Grace.

People on hand for the auction quickly crowded around Hogan, greeting him and snapping selfies together.

Raymond Nichols was by the governor’s side as he saw the auction lanes, the main lobby and rear office areas — the administrative, accounting and information technology departments of BSC America, which had been across Route 1 in separate offices, are under the same roof along with the auction lanes and vehicle maintenance center.

“Just to have everybody be on one campus, for our employees, buyers and sellers, it’s been wonderful, so we’re excited we can accommodate growth here,” Nichols-Neff said.

Catrina and Ebenezer Anim, a married couple from Elkridge in Howard County, were among the buyers who greeted Hogan.

“He’s very friendly, and I’ll vote for him any time,” Catrina Anim said.

The couple made a successful bid on a Chevrolet Traverse SUV. They said they have bought other vehicles through the Bel Air Auto Auction, for friends and family, in the past.

“It’s one of the best places to buy cars,” Catrina said.

They praised the Riverside site for having more space on its lot, making it easier to find a vehicle before the auction, and having more space in the auction area so they do not have to fight their way through the crowd to make a bid.

“The customer service is very good, very helpful,” Ebenezer Anim said.

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