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Monday, 30 March 2020 19:06

Family-Owned PA Auto Dealerships Hold onto Hope as Coronavirus Crisis Rocks Main Street

Written by Jen Samuel, Daily Local News
Sky Motor Cars team members include, left to right, Kevin Reece, Justin Spoont, owner Brett Sholder and Andrew Rennard. Sky Motor Cars team members include, left to right, Kevin Reece, Justin Spoont, owner Brett Sholder and Andrew Rennard. Daily Local News

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With the economy on hold, family-owned dealerships feel the hurt.

“Across Pennsylvania, approximately 52,000 are employed by new car dealerships, another 50,000 at used car dealerships, for approximately 102,000 employees,” said Melanie Stine, director of communications for the Pennsylvania Automobile Association (PAA.)

 

“Gov. (Tom) Wolf, utilizing the list provided by the Department of Homeland Security, in fact deemed vehicle repair and parts sales as essential during this health crisis. Many dealerships remain open, serving their communities’ vehicle repair needs during this difficult time,” Stine said.

 

Recently, Wolf's administration ruled the sales departments of statewide car dealerships are "non-essential" businesses in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

 

Meanwhile to the south, the governor of Maryland deemed the auto industry an "essential" service, legally enabling sales to continue to meet demand.

 

Dealerships in Pennsylvania are worried they are losing what few sales there are in this climate to out-of-state dealers and national online giants.

 

Stine said the PAA is working with the Wolf administration on the merits of including vehicle sales as life-sustaining, exempt businesses during the coronavirus crisis.

 

"Frequently, vehicles need to be replaced for a variety of reasons to support life-sustaining functions, often tied to repair and collision situations and currently this is not permitted in Pennsylvania," Stine said. "Other states have recognized this need and PAA is encouraging the administration to rule similarly and provide for a limited interaction sales model, whether by appointment only or through online sales to satisfy the needs of the community while insuring social distancing and limited physical interaction.”

 

Auto dealerships are a staple on most Main Streets in America. Many people are wondering what can be done, right now, to support and help Pennsylvanians of the automobile industry.

 

“Pennsylvania’s car dealers encourage all Pennsylvanians to support their local businesses during this health crisis,” Stine stated. “Without a doubt all local businesses are suffering, and patronizing these businesses during this difficult time is paramount to preventing an economic crisis to result from the health crisis we are facing.”

 

Stine said all Pennsylvania auto dealerships are struggling to do what is best for their customers and their employees during this difficult time.


As per the economic impact that this crisis has caused, she noted, “Any day in which a car sits on their lot, unable to be sold, is a direct cost to the dealership.”

 

Jeff Haly founded his Downingtown auto business, HG Motorcar Corporation, 38 years ago in 1982. Besides sales, the enterprise offers service maintenance and body shop repairs.

 

The Downingtown business officially closed all departments in-house, including service, on March 24.

 

Haly said he never recalled a time when dealerships were asked to close.

 

He said all of his vendors were doing a great job deferring payments.

 

“Everybody has been wonderful,” Haly said.

 

HG Motorcar Corporation has 14 employees.

 

“I’m trying to pay my employees as best I can. But, it’s hard,” Haly said. “We invest most of our cash. We have $1.5 million worth of inventory here---and it’s still sitting here---that we’re not allowed to sell. So obviously our cash flow is virtually nil.”

 

H.G. Motorcar is located at 711 W. Lancaster Ave. in Downingtown.

 

During the wake of this crisis, H.G. Motorcar closed down at its borough headquarters; however, the staff remains on-call ready to help customers in need.

 

“I have mechanics on call. If we have somebody that has an emergency, we will pick it up, we will fix it, we will deliver it,” Haly said, noting the ability of his business to deliver maintenance and repair services depends on the advanced auto part warehouses staying open.

 

“If we can’t get parts, we can’t fix it,” he said.

 

“We’re strong. We're all healthy here,” Haly said. “We’re only closed because we’ve been mandated to close. We’re here to work. We’re here to fix people’s cars.”

 

On March 23, the National Automobile Dealers Association sent a coalition letter to President Donald Trump asking for help.

 

At least in Maryland, the governor is listening. According to Maryland Automobile Dealers Association President Pete Kitzmiller, auto sales were deemed an "essential" service by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.

 

Brett Sholder is the owner of Sky Motor Cars in West Chester. He opened the venue, on 969 S Matlack St., back in 2002.

 

As for his employees, Sholder said, “There’s five of us.”


 

As for auto sales being allowed to continue in Maryland, but deemed not permissible, even online, for Pennsylvanian car dealerships, Sholder shared his concern.

 

“It’s kind of disturbing,” Sholder said. “You can have somebody local who needs a car and you can’t sell them, but they can drive down 95 in an hour, or less than that, and buy a car.”

 

Although, in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, Sky Motor Cars cannot sell cars in-house or online, as of press time, the dealership can still take deposits. Sholder's staff is working remotely to handle all inquiries.

 

“This is the unknown,” Sholder said. “We don't know how long this is gonna continue and how long we can sustain being shut down. We’re retail only.”

 

Sky Motor Cars operates a sales department; it doesn’t have a service center.

 

Sky Motor Cars carries a broad range of vehicles and offers a completely transparent car buying process.

 

One of the cars in stock today at Sky Motor Cars is a 2013 Ford F-150 SuperCrew 4WD SVT Raptor. It retails for just under $35,000.

 

As for the coronavirus crisis, Sholder said of his business, “Thankfully we have cash on hand. As long as it’s not three months we’ll weather the storm. Other dealerships that don’t have cash could really get into a bad situation."

 

As of press time, New Jersey auto dealers remained unable to sell cars in-house at their showrooms or online, according to New Jersey CAR President Jim Appleton during an interview March 24. He said the issue would hopefully be resolved with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy by the end of the week.

 

“Safety is paramount,” said Jeff D'Ambrosio, during an interview with the Daily Local News on March 24.

 

His business, Jeff D'Ambrosio Auto Group, employs nearly 200 people in Chester County with four dealership showrooms in the region.

 

“Their family and their safety comes first,” he said of his employees, whom he described as his friends.


While service is open, sales closed down last week, due to the crisis.

 

D'Ambrosio opened his first car dealership in Chester County nearly 40 years ago, in 1983. Its flagship location is at 1221 E. Lancaster Ave. in Downingtown.

 

“We will get through this together,” he said. “Fear is a terrible enemy.”


D'Ambrosio said there is no playbook for this. In recent days, he’s told his employees that everyone will have food for their families.

 

“Chester County is the best community in the world,” D'Ambrosio said. “They know that they’re strong and we’ll get through this. They’re great people here. They’re the strongest group of people I’ve ever met in Chester County. They’re civic oriented.”

He added, “We'll be fine. The fear factor has to subside. And fear is terrible.”

 

Jeff D'Ambrosio Auto Group is a leading full-service dealership in Chester County dedicated to bringing high-quality vehicles and great service to the region. The dealership carries a large selection of new cars and pre-owned vehicles across a wide spectrum of brands.

 

“Life is full of disturbances,” D'Ambrosio said. “This is when leaders lead and you can really tell the people that are of really good character---how they react.”

 

He said he tells the staff on his team to be leaders.

 

D’Ambrosio expressed his thanks for his family, community and employees. “I am very worried about them because I know their fear is terrible.”

 

He welcomes his team calling him with questions. “I really care about my employees. My employees are my friends.”

 

Delaware has closed down auto sales in the First State until May 16.

 

In Harrisburg, the effort to legalize online car sales for commonwealth-based auto dealers continues.

 

“We have made requests to the governor’s office to allow for online sales to continue to help our dealer members and satisfy the needs of the communities they support,” said Stine on behalf of the PAA.

 

“Such online sales, with limited interaction for the customer, would be beneficial both to dealerships and to their customers, but to date we have received no response to our requests.”

 

“The Wolf administration's highest priority remains protecting public health and safety,” said Casey Smith, communications director for the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. “Interstate travel is not prohibited.”


In an effort to develop as comprehensive a list as possible, the administration used the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) coding structure from the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics to identify whether sector businesses were life-sustaining but with the understanding that many businesses could still be operational through telework, according to Smith. 

 

Smith verified to MediaNews Group that since Maryland dealerships remain open for business, Pennsylvanians can travel there to buy cars instead of purchasing inventory from Pennsylvania-based dealerships.

 

“Correct, except for the counties currently under a stay-at-home order, which includes Chester County,” he said.

 

And while car dealerships in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are presently unable to sell cars at their dealerships or online, the demand that remains in play this quarter is turning to not only Maryland dealerships but also to Carvana, a national automobile online dealer based in Arizona.

 

“Carvana is licensed in Pennsylvania and should be in no different position than local dealerships,” Smith said. “In-person title transfer services are not permitted.”

 

In other news, Wolf deemed copy centers a “non-essential” business, whereas the governor of New Jersey exempted the industry as an “essential” service for New Jerseyans.

 

We thank the Daily Local News for reprint permission.

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