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Friday, July 20, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bellevue Lexus dealership: a grand piano, chandelier, fireplace ... and cars, too

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

It's a car dealership that resembles an upscale hotel more than the Spartan auto shops of the past.

The new Lexus of Bellevue, which opened this week at the site of the old Bellevue City Hall, greets visitors with chandeliers, earth-tone furniture and a baby grand piano. A walk through the showroom passes flat-screen TVs, a deli, an escalator, and facing downtown Bellevue, a set of artificial putting greens.

It may be fancy, but it also reflects a new reality, the owners say: Customers won't put up with sleazy salesmen and basic décor anymore. Today, dealerships need to cater to customers shopping or waiting for repairs, sometimes with children in tow.

"My job is to make sure I've accomplished every need you have," said Michael O'Brien, who owns Lexus of Bellevue and four other car dealerships in the Seattle area.

It's not just in Bellevue. Around the country, dealerships have been focusing more on the "customer experience." According to a survey by the National Automobile Dealers Association, about 30 percent of dealers have remodeled their service departments, including customer lounges, in the past five years.

The new Lexus dealership has been a long time coming. O'Brien paid $24 million in 2003 for the 11-acre City Hall property on 116th Avenue. The city leased it back until moving into the new downtown City Hall last year.

O'Brien sold three acres, tore down the remaining buildings and built the 275,000-square-foot dealership, which he said cost in the tens of millions.

Now it's the second-largest Lexus dealership in the country by building size.

On Thursday afternoon, two children watched Nickelodeon in a glassed-off playroom, which had a video-game console. A man read a novel in the expansive living-room-style lounge, complete with a fireplace, and several couples chatted with salesmen.

Peggy Allen, 57, of Bellevue, used free Wi-Fi to work on her laptop while her car was serviced one floor below. She occasionally looked up at the TV nearby to watch a History Channel program on the Kennedys.

The dealership, which used to be scattered among three smaller sites in Bellevue, was always upscale, Allen said.

"This is just a continuation, but this is a beautiful place," she said.

Ashley Bach: 206-464-2567 or abach@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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