Saturday, May 16, 2009

Death Watch on Auto Row

One day long, long ago, shortly after The Eye moved to Bend, our boss came up to us beaming, shook our hand and offered his

Posted By on Sat, May 16, 2009 at 11:18 AM

One day long, long ago, shortly after The Eye moved to Bend, our boss came up to us beaming, shook our hand and offered his congratulations. Our big achievement: We'd just bought a Jeep Cherokee from a local dealer.

Back in those distant days, you see, it was routine for Bendites to go to Portland to buy their vehicles - not just because they (supposedly) were cheaper there, but also because there wasn't much of a selection here.

Those not-so-good old days may be coming back: Over the past week, Chrysler and GM dropped the ax on three of their long-time Central Oregon dealerships. Bob Thomas of Bend lost its Chevy and Cadillac franchises, Thomas Sales & Service of Bend lost its Chrysler franchise, and Dave Hamilton of Redmond was a double loser - it was cut by both GM and Chrysler.

Bob Thomas and Thomas Sales & Service are appealing the GM and Chrysler decisions. If the appeals don't succeed, anybody who needs warranty service on a Chevy vehicle will have to take it to Gary Gruner in Madras.

But eventually even that option might not be available: The more than 1,100 dealerships that GM slashed last week were less than half the number that the automaker ultimately wants to get rid of.

No matter how you feel about car salesmen in general, the loss of major dealerships isn't a good thing for Central Oregon. They're significant employers and taxpayers, and they've been consistent supporters of local events and non-profits.

More than that, the absence of any GM or Chrysler dealer in town reinforces the impression that Bend is an isolated, middle-of-nowhere hamlet, and that will make it just a little bit harder to claw our way out of the recession.

Bad economic news tends to spawn more bad economic news. We've already lost a number of good restaurants, several retailers and at least one major (by local standards) manufacturer - and now we're losing car dealerships. The tumbleweeds aren't blowing down the middle of Wall Street yet, but this place is starting to get a bit of that creepy ghost-town feeling.

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