BY NICK DIAMANTIDES
The Long Beach Chrysler-Jeep dealership, which had been located at 2800 Cherry Avenue in Signal Hill for about 15 years, went out of business on June 16, but the news is not all bad. From now on, Glenn E. Thomas Dodge, also located in Signal Hill at 2100 E. Spring St., will offer Chrysler and Jeep automobiles in addition to Dodge products.
“The closure was related to the Chrysler bankruptcy,” said Signal Hill City Manager Ken Farfsing. “The dealership was called a minority dealership, and it was owned by Chrysler.” He explained that Chrysler recently forced many franchise dealerships out of business across the nation through the federal bankruptcy process, but Long Beach Chrysler was not a franchise. “It was not put on the list of dealerships that were going to close, but Chrysler still had the right to close it,” Farfsing said. “The corporation had used it for many years to train minorities on how to operate a dealership to help them get into the car business.”
Farfsing noted that because of the nationwide slump in car sales, most automobile dealerships have been downsizing and laying off employees during the past year or so. “My guess is that the Chrysler dealership in Signal Hill had 40 to 45 employees just before it closed,” he said. “They had a full-service area and everything else that goes with a dealership.”
Farfsing said it was too early to tell how the dealership’s closing would impact Signal Hill’s sales-tax revenues. “It’s a good news–bad news type of situation,” he said. “The two brands offered at the Chrysler store, which are Chrysler and Jeep, have been picked up by Glenn E. Thomas Dodge. So if you go down Spring Street, Glenn E. Thomas will be selling Chrysler and Jeep along with everything else in the Dodge line.”
All the vehicles and employees are now gone from the Long Beach Chrysler site. The mechanics stayed for a few days after the dealership went out of business to finish up maintenance and repair jobs that were begun before the closure. “All the other employees were basically given their notice on Tuesday (June 16) to go file for unemployment,” Farfsing said.
He added that the city and the Signal Hill Redevelopment Agency would soon be reaching out to find another dealership to occupy the former Chrysler store. “It’s in the auto dealer specific plan so it’s set up specifically for that use,” he said. “It’s owned by the Salta family, which has been in the automobile dealership business for 40 or 50 years. We obviously will want to work with them to bring another dealership there.”
Farfsing said it was too early to even speculate as to what brand name would be offered at the hoped-for new dealership. “There is still an awful lot of shakeout that will be going on in the automobile industry,” he said. “There are many dealerships that are consolidating with others and dealerships that are struggling.”
He stressed however that he was confident that eventually a new dealership will open at the former Chrysler site. “There may be a dealer interested in going into that location because it is a really new facility with an auto shop and great visibility,” he explained. “Some dealers will see it as a better place to sell cars than the area in which they are now located. There is a great opportunity there for us as well.” He said the Chrysler lot encompasses about three acres.
Farfsing said that Signal Hill’s auto sales-tax revenues have been declining for about a year. “We have a $17 million (General Fund) budget, and about 70 percent of that comes from sales tax revenues,” he noted. “When times were really good and lots of cars were being sold, about 25 percent of our sales tax revenues– about two-and-a-half million dollars– were coming from our auto dealers,” he said. “A lot of our dealers are down in sales because of the recession. Some dealers are doing better than others, but overall our sales-tax revenues are down.”
He said the city’s total sales-tax revenues have declined by about 18 percent in the past year. He noted that some auto dealerships have seen a 30-percent drop in sales. “I can’t give you more specific numbers because that’s all confidential information,” he said.
Alan King, general manager of Glenn E. Thomas, said the dealership would soon be changing its name to Glenn E. Thomas Dodge–Chrysler–Jeep. “We have already started receiving customers from Long Beach Chrysler–Jeep,” he said. “Some of their key people will be working for us now, and the customers will see familiar faces when they come in.”
King added that he expected the transition to go smoothly. “We are really excited about it,” he said. “It’s going to be a really good thing for our company, and it will be good for the customer too.”