When word got out that Bo Corwin's Chrysler and Jeep operations were slated to close, he got two kinds of responses.
Corwin, 62, says he got calls from "the vultures." Real-estate companies wanted to know if he wanted to list his property. An environmental services company offered site cleanup.
Other responses were more typical of Hickory, the Pennsylvania town of about 800 people that is home to Corwin Chrysler-Jeep, Corwin says. Longtime customers stopped in to offer sympathy and to wonder where they will go to buy vehicles and have them serviced.
"To a large extent, our customers trust us," Corwin says. "They are just as hurt as if you stole their dog."
Corwin's father started the store as one of the first Willys Jeep dealerships in 1945, when returning World War II servicemen brought back memories of the sturdy Jeeps they used overseas.
"If we're not the oldest Jeep dealership, we're one of the oldest," Corwin says.
The dealership has maintained a steady clientele. It is selling about 10 new vehicles a month this year, down from a typical rate of 20, Corwin says. But it has a strong service and parts business, including $700,000 in Internet parts sales this year, and a 90 percent absorption rate, the percentage of a dealership's operating costs covered by service department income. Corwin hopes to keep the business open as a service center if he loses his franchises.
He says Chrysler is making a mistake in jettisoning small-town stores, where steady customers stop in for a cup of coffee and talk to mechanics about repairs. It's a place where customers drop off cookies or cakes for workers.
If Corwin's Chrysler and Jeep operations close, those customers will probably go to a nearby Ford store, he says. They would have to drive 35 miles to the nearest Chrysler store.
Corwin has about 25 new vehicles in stock. He ordered them in response to Chrysler's pleas this year. He says he is "somewhere between angry and numb" but is trying not to be bitter.
"One of my dealer friends is going to start answering his phone, 'the unwanted Dodge dealer,' " Corwin says. "We still answer, 'Corwin Jeep.' We've answered it that way since Jeep became more popular than Willys."