Thursday, May 14, 2009

chrysler dealerships closing

More On Chrysler Dealerships

Chrysler plans to close over 50 Pa. dealerships

WASHINGTON, Pa. - Frank Valencic Sr. has been hanging around Tomsic Motor Company for most of his 77 years, but he never had a lunch break like Thursday's. That's when he saw on the TV news that Chrysler plans to pull the plug on the dealership that his father-in-law Jim Tomsic founded in 1929.

"We thought there's no way in the world they'd throw us out. We've been with them 80 years," Valencic said.

The Chrysler-Jeep dealership about 20 miles south of Pittsburgh is one of at least 50 that the troubled car company plans to close in Pennsylvania, the most in any state. A bankruptcy filing in New York on Thursday shows Chrysler wants to close 789 U.S. dealerships, or nearly a fourth of its 3,200 outlets.

The company wants to close them by June 9 saying sales are too low. About half of Chrysler's dealers account for 90 percent of the its U.S. sales, the company said.

At least 10 dealerships in and around Pittsburgh and more than a dozen in northeastern Pennsylvania are on the list. The dealers likely will have a right to appeal to get off the list.

"We're a very small market for them so we really don't move a lot of the large volume of vehicles so that didn't surprise me," said Jane Sapone, vice president of Town and Country Motors in Ligonier, which was on the list.

The dealership employs 15 people, but none will lose their job, Sapone said. Instead, they'll work at the Ford dealership the Sapones own across the street.

"The Ford dealership does better anyway," Sapone said. "It really won't effect us as much as it would someone who's completely done."

Five dealerships in the Lehigh Valley, including Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton, are slated to close. About 55 new-car dealerships there employed nearly 2,800 people in the third quarter of 2008, according to state data.

"There's no way this region could escape the throes of a global recession," said Bob Wendt, research director at the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. "It's a tragedy and it's sad for the individuals involved."

In Washington, the Tomsic dealership typically sold about 175 new and 225 used cars annually. It's just down the road from a harness racing track with a brand-new slot machine casino, and an outlet mall. But the business is a throwback. Its showroom built in 1972 to Chrysler specifications seems quaint now.

Valencic's son, Frank Jr., who now owns the business, said the dealership will remain open selling late-model used vehicles and as a service center. The family will close up if they can't make a go of it, idling 18 employees, including Frank Jr.'s two sisters, and his two sons, the fourth generation to work there.

The Valencics' shop is much like the Rink Bros. dealership in north central Pennsylvania, where general manager Tom Coldwell got his shutdown notice from Chrysler on Thursday. Rink Bros. is in Bradford where Mayor Tom Riel said businesses, including Zippo Manufacturing Co., the cigarette lighter firm, have laid off about 800 workers since late 2007.

Coldwell's grandfather, Raymond Rink, 93, has owned the dealership since founding it with his brother about 70 years ago.

"We know everybody by name. They talk to us, ask us 'What's going on?" Coldwell said. "We really can't answers questions for them because we didn't know ourselves."

The Valencics say that kind of loyalty doesn't matter anymore, but it should, because small dealerships keep customers loyal to a brand.

"They don't want that. It's like Wal-Mart. They want everything big," Frank Valencic Sr. said. "But people aren't going to be able to get service and it's going to hurt."


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