ROCKLAND, Maine — Just one Jeep remained Tuesday afternoon on the lot of the Fuller Automall’s Jeep dealership. It was the end of an era that has lasted more than a half-century.
“These are unprecedented times,” said Fuller vice president Tammy Kolmosky.
The Automall’s Jeep dealership was singled out for elimination by Chrysler LLC in May along with three other Maine dealers in Brunswick, Sanford and Livermore Falls.
Jeeps have been sold at Fuller since the 1950s, said president Ed Kolmosky.
As part of the auto industry giant’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, Chrysler singled out 789 dealership contracts to eliminate, which would cut its network to 2,400. The company has said that it needs to cut its dealer ranks by about 25 percent as part of its plans to cut costs and quickly emerge from Chapter 11 protection, but dealers argue that their businesses don’t result in substantial costs to Chrysler.
About 300 of those dealers had their hopes dashed Tuesday afternoon when U.S. Judge Arthur Gonzalez said Chrysler can go ahead with its plan to terminate those franchises, effective immediately.
“There wasn’t much of a decision we could make one way or another. We have to do what we’re mandated to do,” said Ed Kolmosky, who bought the business in 1981.
Tammy Kolmosky emphasized that while the business is no longer a Jeep dealership, it still comprises two viable GM dealerships — one in Rockland and one in Rockport. The Fuller Automall still has factory-trained technicians with special tools and parts who are ready to service Jeeps, she said. And business has been picking up.
“I’m a strong GM store in this location, even without Jeep,” Kolmosky said.
Bruce Gerrity, an attorney with the Augusta law firm Preti Flaherty who represents the Maine Auto Dealers Association, said there are some federal and state bills in the pipeline that aim to give dealers support.
One piece of emergency legislation that is going through the Legislature would protect dealers’ rights by making sure the eliminated dealerships have first right of refusal if automakers decide to come back to an eliminated area within five years, Gerrity said.
“I think it is very fair to say that Governor John Baldacci is extremely concerned about protecting the economic viability of dealerships and the communities they are located in,” Gerrity said. “The governor understands that dealerships are not a liability but an asset to the auto industry.”
Another possible avenue of help is the Automobile Dealer Economic Rights Restoration Act of 2009, which was introduced Tuesday in the U.S. House by Reps. Dan Maffei, D-N.Y., and Frank Kratovil, D-Md.
The act would require Chrysler and General Motors to continue to honor their commitments to auto dealers.
“There was no transparency to the system that shut down many profitable dealerships that have been local institutions for decades, and no proof from automakers that shutting down those dealerships will actually be financially beneficial to the makers,” according to Maffei’s Web site.
Gerrity said that the Maine dealerships often are local institutions and that it has been “disheartening” for some to have to sever their often long-standing dealership ties.
“When you’ve been dedicated to a job, dedicated to a manufacturer and been in the community, and all of a sudden, they say, ‘See you later,’ people get extremely upset and despondent over that type of development,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.