Canby resident Jeremy Conroy’s love of classic cars began 14 years ago, when he traded a used excavator for a 1968 Chevrolet Camaro.
He fixed it up, sold it for a profit, then used the proceeds to buy another. After repeating this process five or six times, Conroy, the part-owner of an excavation contractor in Oregon City, knew he was hooked.
“I finally saved up enough and bought one as a keeper,” he says. “Then, I just kept buying new ones. I love the history of the cars. I do a bunch of research for each one. And I enjoy the hunt of looking for them and meeting the people I’m buying from.”
He now buys and flips 30 to 40 classic cars a year, usually at big auctions held around the country — “like the ones you see on TV,” he says.
Now, he and his wife, Denise, are channeling their passion into a one-of-a-kind project in Aurora: Conroy Classics. The three-story building will feature apartments on the top two floors and on the main story, a classic car showcase for the Conroys’ collection.
The showroom will hold up to 20 or 25 cars, Conroy says, depending on how they’re laid out. His main desire is just to showcase his love of classic cars to the public, though sales will be allowed if he decides to go that route.
The Aurora Historic Review Board actually amended the municipal code to allow classic car sales as an approved use in the city’s historic downtown core.
“You know, I never intended on selling cars there; I just wanted people to be able to look at them,” he says. “My wife and I — we always said we aren’t going to put a building in just to get revenue.”
The Conroys will not only be the building’s owners; they also plan on living there. They designed the top floor penthouse as their primary residence. The second floor contains five one-bedroom units. The third offers one additional apartment in addition to the penthouse — also a one-bedroom but roughly twice the size of the units below.
“We really went through and designed that space,” he says. “It was personal for us.”
Conroy Classics is being built on Main Street, next to the American Legion Hall, in a vacant lot that once housed a historic building. The Will Bros. General Merchandise Store, owned by Anton and Jonas Will, sons of original colony members Leonard and Triphine Will, was built some time before 1892.
The two-story building, constructed in the Italianate style, later housed a funeral home until 1942. Sadly, the original structure burned to the ground in 2002.
The Conroys worked with local historians and other business owners to find old photos of the original mercantile building and brought them to their architect, Jessica Iselin of Iseslin Architects P.C., who has done several other projects in Aurora’s historic section.
“She came up with something that was just 100 times cooler than what we had in mind,” Conroy said. “I think a lot of Aurora residents are really excited about the project because of the looks of the building.”
Conroy’s love of classic cars includes all things oddball and unusual — the rarer, the better. He especially likes the ones that make the longtime classic car enthusiasts do a double-take, one of his favorites being his 1967 Ford Bronco — which a previous owner modified to run on diesel.
But, at his core, he’s a Chevy guy. A few years ago, he said, he met his biological father and was surprised to learn that he, too, has the hobby of buying and selling cars. They even have the same affinity for American muscle.
“I guess it’s in our blood,” he said with a laugh.
The Canby-Aurora area is rife with classic car enthusiasts like the Conroys (as evidenced by, to give one example, the popular annual Cutsforth’s Cruise-In that even a pandemic couldn’t stop) and they hope to host regular events and showings once the facility is built.
“There are a lot of car guys out in that area,” he says. “We want to bring in local people and just talk about our cars. And the showroom will take other people’s cars as well, if people want to show off theirs.”
The coronavirus economic crisis has not altered the Conroys’ plans, nor has it seemed to make much of a dent in the nation’s appetite for classic cars. Jeremy Conroy didn’t expect it to.
The previous economic recession actually led to a boom in classic car sales, which Conroy says are even more reliable investments than real estate.
“The classic car market really took off in 2008, because you had all of these rich developers buying them instead of property,” he says. “Classic cars hold their value, and the values double about every 10 years.”
The one thing the market is lacking, Conroy says, is younger investors — who may be less familiar with the cars themselves but who, especially, tend to lack the disposable income the hobby requires.
Conroy said he offers steep discounts to young and first-time buyers in an effort to keep the love of classic cars going for future generations.
Conroy Classics plans to break ground around the start of 2021. Construction is expected to take about a year.