Soaring fuel prices, the housing market slow down, and other economic forces have claimed one long-time Robstown business.

Access Chevrolet of 620 E. Main Ave. closed its doors June 20 as the dealership's private owners sold the franchise back to General Motors for an undisclosed price. The Access Chevrolet sales office at 3680 Highway 77 in Calallen also closed June 20.

Fewer than 15 employees were affected, with some of them moving to the Access Ford dealership in Calallen, said dealership owner Charlie Massey, adding only three Access Chevrolet employees were without new jobs when the doors closed last month.

"Continued changes in the marketplace due to the housing market slow down, high fuel prices and other outside influences have placed severe pressure on retail car dealers," Massey said. "Two million fewer vehicles will be sold in the U.S. this year. This shrinking market did not justify construction cost of a new automotive dealership."

Meanwhile, Access Ford in Calallen remains open for business.

Massey said there's little hope that the Robstown location would once again be home to a Chevrolet dealership.

He said new auto dealerships are being located along well-traveled highways and roads, and not within downtowns. In addition, there are several other Chevrolet dealerships in the area and demand for pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles has dropped dramatically with gasoline selling near $4 a gallon.

"It's a closed point at this time. We're going to put the real estate on the market," Massey said. "There are 11 Chevrolet stores in the market area."

Massey said the Robstown service center building at 620. E. Main Ave. would be stripped to the walls and put up for auction in mid-August.

Charlie and Frank Massey acquired the property and dealership in January 2003. It was formerly Jennings Chevrolet of Robstown, which had been at the location since 1954.

"We made an effort to re-grow the sales in the market area by relocating to a new building where we were going to build a new facility," Charlie said. "It didn't work out, so we sold the dealership back to GM. We don't have anything left in Robstown. All we had left in Robstown was the service center."

The Masseys also acquired 40 acres along Highway 77 in Calallen and built a Ford dealership in the developing commercial area.

Charlie said the Masseys would continue to develop vacant land surrounding their Access Ford dealership.

"Plans are underway for more than 25,000 square feet of retail space, with two to three restaurants on the former Chevrolet dealership site," Charlie said. Much of the land behind the dealership is currently rented to farmers.

Expansion plans for the Ford dealership are also in the works for the collision center and the service department, the Masseys said.

Charlie said it's a difficult time for auto dealers, especially dealerships offering larger vehicles.

"I think housing started the downhill affect," Charlie said. "Demand is down because they can't use their homes as (automated teller machines). Fewer cars will be sold in 2008 because fuel went so high. It had a dramatic effect in what people wanted to buy.

It's affected what they think they want to buy."

Charlie said many customers are leaving their SUVs and buying lighter cars to save hundreds of dollars a month on gas

"The market needs to settle out where it's going to settle out. Then there will be pent-up demand in the whole industry," he said. "Americans are going to learn to deal with an automotive world with a smaller vehicle, or pay more for the vehicle they need. A big family needs a larger vehicle. A lot of hybrids are not cost-efficient."