Northeast Ohio Chrysler Dealers Look to the Future

Great Northern Dodge is one of over 20 Northeast Ohio Chrysler franchises slated to close.
Great Northern Dodge is one of over 20 Northeast Ohio Chrysler franchises slated to close.
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Great Northern Dodge of North Olmsted was one of the dealerships that got the bad news Thursday morning. Grief and denial often accompany death. And the car business is no exception to that rule. Here's owner Ed Schartman.

ED SCHARTMAN: We've been with them 30 years and we'd thought we'd done a good job with them as far as selling cars, parts, service, body shop, and we never had any indication that anything was going to change.

Schartman says if he closes his shop, the impact will be felt across the community.

ED SCHARTMAN: I've got 50 employees who all live around here, that depend on this place for a job. We pay a lot of taxes in this city, just like everybody else does, but evidently it's going to get cut a little bit.

North Olmsted mayor Thomas O'Grady says the city has used the proliferation of auto dealers along its main retail strip as a calling card to car buyers across the rest of the region

THOMAS O'GRADY: We have the newly coined auto mile. In North Olmsted, along Lorain Road, we have virtually every automobile made, and we have dealerships that are among the leaders in the state and beyond in sales. So, we've done our part to help them, Great Northern Dodge has done their part in being a good corporate citizen in supporting the schools and the city when we have different initiatives. It's disheartening to hear that the good people at Great Northern Dodge might be out of a job.

It's still too early to say exactly how much of an economic hit that would be to North Olmsted. Dealers can appeal their fate to the judge hearing the bankruptcy case, and some say they will.

Across Cuyahoga County in Beachwood, Alex Park remains optimistic he can remain in business in some form. He's part of the management team of the Crestmont Auto Group, which has a number of stores in Greater Cleveland --- including a Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep dealership on Chagrin Boulevard.

ALEX PARK: Will we be a franchise new car dealer? No. But, we do have flexibility in terms of whether or not we want to bring in another franchise. Or whether we want to simply operate a used car operation.

Park also has a Cadillac dealership just across the street, but says there's no way General Motors would cut him off. GM plans to downsize its dealerships to an even greater degree than Chrysler. That list is to be released today. North Olmsted mayor Thomas O'Grady also is trying to stay positive about these closings --- including the ones at Great Northern Dodge.

THOMAS O'GRADY: You know, I think there's a lot of gloom and doom in the words that have come out, but I don't know that, at this point, it absolutely means they're going to close, and I would suspect it doesn't.

Despite all the shutdowns, the American car industry still has to face the fact that foreign carmakers have a much smaller --- and more economical --- dealer network. In a prepared statement, Chrysler said it had no choice but to cut back, so it can begin to complete its transition to a "smaller, more effective, and more profitable dealer network." An auto dealers association spokesperson put the issue another way. He said, what Chrysler is doing is "tantamount to divesting yourself of troops when you have a siege at the gates."

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