Hard times on dealer row

Chrysler shuttered 789 dealerships nationwide. Now these dealers and their employees are recovering from the shock and looking to the future.

1 of 7
South Dakota
South Dakota
Steve Biegler's business was about to celebrate its 80th birthday. Then a letter arrived.
Owner: Steve Biegler
Location: Aberdeen, S.D.

"My small Jeep dealership was started back in 1929 by my grandfather. We've gone through plenty of difficult times over the past 80 years when the brand moved between companies, but this time was different.

I was getting inklings that something might go awry with the Jeep brand before the financial collapse, but then when the banks' problems hit, I realized we were facing a perfect storm. I was optimistic we'd pull through until Chrysler filed for bankruptcy. At that point I knew we'd probably be gone because the franchise agreements would be null. Unfortunately, I was right.

Initially I had heard that those getting letters via UPS would be those who had survived. A friend called while I was driving and said he got a package with a letter containing good news. I called my office and asked my employees to look out for the UPS truck. When we got a package, I was relieved. I thought the letter would say we were alright.

I had about 20 seconds of euphoria. Then, my employee read the letter to me. Apparently all dealerships received a letter, and we were one of the 789 that got the dreaded version.

The letter was like a kick in the groin to me - even though I sensed it was coming, the blow still hurt. I have 12 employees and my son Matt would be the business's fourth generation. Chrysler corporate is nonchalant about this. They don't realize how deeply it hurts everyone.

I feel fortunate that I just sold my last car last Saturday - I had started cutting back on inventory five months ago to focus on our power sports inventory such as ATVs. That part of the business has grown since I launched it more than 10 years ago. Those vehicles are popular in this farming and ranch community.

But regardless of our particular situation, what Chrysler has done to the small dealerships is shortsighted. It's wrong that they think a standalone can't compete. When I get customers, who become more like friends, they have my home, cell and office numbers and are encouraged to call me after hours, on holidays and weekends. That kind of a relationship doesn't have a pricetag." - as told to Emily Maltby

By Emily Maltby

NEXT: Weese Motors
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LAST UPDATE: May 18 2009 | 5:30 PM ET
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