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Robert Trigaux

Requiem for closing Chrysler dealerships across Florida



Chryslerstpetejeepchryslerclosesedmundfounatin Wake up and good morning. It ended with nostalgia, pain, tears. Tuesday was the end of the road for a number of Chrysler franchise dealerships across Florida targeted for closure. Many were landmarks of their business communities.

Reports the St. Petersburg Times, St. Pete Jeep Chrysler owner William Douglas' business on U.S. 19 near 22nd Avenue N will stay open as a used-car superstore. His bitterness at his abandonment by America's third-biggest automaker wasn't far from the surface. His was one of three stores closed by the corporation out of about 30 Chrysler outlets in the Tampa Bay area.

ChryslerstpetejeepgmTravisCowartEdmundDFountain In St. Petersburg (see first photo), on the last day of St. Pete Jeep Chrysler, customer Matt Wheaton peered into the window of a Chrysler 300 with salesman Frank Politano. Affiliated with Chrysler for 25 years, the business reopens today as a used-car superstore. In second photo, dealership general manager Travis Cowart makes his way through the showroom Tuesday. (Photos: Edmund Fountain, St. Petersburg Times.)

Similar scenes played out Tuesday across the state. Here's a sampling:

* "I need time to grieve, so when I start a new job, I'm fresh and on top of my game." So said service manager Rick Ogle, who worked at Monarch Dodge in Lauderdale Lakes for 18 years. He went home Tuesday to a wife who recently lost her job at the Yankee Clipper, the beach-side hotel in Fort Lauderdale. He now plans to complete projects around the house and visit family in South Carolina before seeking employment, reports the Sun-Sentinel.

In South Florida, also shuttered were Maroone Chrysler Jeep Dodge in Coconut Creek; Tamiami Chrysler Jeep Dodge in Miami and Spitzer Autoworld in Homestead.

* "We've been a Jeep dealer for 38 years," said Jimmie Vickers, 84, of Jimmie Vickers Jeep on Merritt Island on Florida's east coast. "And they gave us 24 days to close it down." The Jeep part of the business is being given to a Dodge-Chrysler dealer about a mile down the road. Chrysler's argument is that by giving dealers like that an additional franchise, it will strengthen them, reports the Orlando Sentinel. And it will," said Buddy Vickers, Jimmie's son and the manager of the dealership. "Just like it would have strengthened us if they had given us Dodge and Chrysler to sell. But they didn't."

Eight Chrysler dealers in Central Florida have had their franchises terminated. But only two — the Courtesy dealers in Sanford and Casselberry — have announced they will close, the Sentinel said. The other six plan to stay open with either a different brand of new vehicle, or used cars.

* "I'm very, very sad," George Joseph, who owns Sunshine Dodge-Isuzu in Melbourne, told Florida Today. "It takes away our franchise and I find this very hard to believe. This is my whole life working and then out of nowhere this happens." Joseph sold his inventory of 125 Dodge vehicles, with about half going in retail sales and the rest -- at a loss of about $1,500 per vehicle -- to other dealers. He still has tens of thousands of dollars worth of Dodge parts he needs to sell. His dealership will continue to operate, selling used cars and servicing vehicles.

Meanwhile, Chrysler this morning is one step closer to emerging from bankruptcy protection after opponents of the automaker's planned partnership with Italy's Fiat exhausted their appeals to halt the Obama administration-backed sale.

Nobody said business survival tactics are pretty. Chrysler's saga is a long way from being over.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:25am]


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