Chrysler to Eliminate Two Valley Dealerships

Hanford, CA /*Liberty Chrysler*/ in /*Hanford*/ and /*Ron Smith Jeep*/ in /*Merced*/ may be forced to cut ties with the automaker next month if approved by a bankruptcy judge.

The owner of this dealership here tells me they are going to fight the potential closure till the very end. City and economic leaders say Chrysler has been an important part of Hanford's history.

Liberty Chrysler owner /*Dwight Nelson*/ says he was shocked when he heard his Hanford location was one of 789 Chrysler dealerships nationwide chosen by the automaker for closure. The motion was made this morning in a New York City Bankruptcy Courtroom. Nelson and the other dealers have now hired an attorney to fight the closures.

"Money was sent today overnight mail for our portion of the legal expenses that are going to be needed to protect our interests here and to keep this dealership open," said Nelson.

Nelson says he's acting with urgency to protect not only all 40 employees who work here but the surrounding community. Chrysler sites declining sales as the reason for cutting the dealerships.

"And so the past year and a half it's definitely been a struggle but we continue to support the community we could have pulled up stakes and left the community but we didn't we stayed and stuck it out," said Nelson.

For more than 50 years Chrysler has had a prominent face in Hanford's community ... generating valuable sales tax revenue and sponsoring local events. The dealership sits on one of the busiest intersections in town.

Hanford City Manager Gary Misenhimer said, "I've been here 60 years and I can't remember not having a Chrysler dealership in the community so just for them being there so long it's kind of a taking of your history in a lot of ways."

Local leaders are worried the city's economy will suffer if people have to leave town to buy Chrysler products.

John Lehn said, "The ripple effect of that is they may decide to do some other shopping that they otherwise might have done in Hanford."

Ron Smith Jeep in Merced may also be forced to cut ties with Chrysler. But that dealership also sells Buicks, Pontiacs, and GMC trucks, so it would remain open despite the outcome of the Chrysler bankruptcy.

Liberty Chrysler expects to find out in two weeks what decision the bankruptcy judge has made.

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