BRADENTON - Anita Di Lena says buying a Dodge vehicle is more than a transaction: It's about family.
|Signs mark the Volkswagen and Dodge sides of the Bob Boast dealership in Bradenton.
At Bob Boast Dodge Volkswagen in Bradenton on Friday, she was picking up a 2004 Dodge Durango and stopped to reflect on the changes that will be coming to the dealership since Chrysler sent a letter taking away its franchise.
"My father bought three cars from here," she said. "Over the years, I've seen that and now it's been handed down to family."
So coming to Bob Boast to replace a car lost in a February accident was like a tribute to her father, Vincent Di Lena, who died in 2006.
"It's the American way. I believe in that, and it's been handed down from generation to generation," Di Lena said.
Franchise owner Jim Keedy said he's talking to lawyers about his options. "I want to fight it, but I don't know how much of an uphill battle it's going to be," he said. "I don't feel very good about it. What they have done is canceled out a business relationship that legally can't be canceled under Florida law."
But he's looking ahead, too. "I guess there's always good news with bad," he noted, explaining that the company will expand its Volkswagen business as well as its used car and truck business. "We just won't be selling Dodge vehicles anymore."
|General manager Todd Lee stands next to a new Dodge Challenger in the showroom at Bob Boast Dodge.
He said people should be aware that Bob Boast Dodge Volkswagen is not closing down completely, but just losing the Dodge name. It will still be at 4827 14th St. W., he said. The Boast family has been in the car business for three generations and more than 70 years, he said.
Sitting in an office off the Dodge sales floor, with a gleaming white Dodge Challenger nearby, Todd Lee, the general manager of the dealership, offered his assessment of the situation with Chrysler: "They did us wrong."
Though he saw that Dodge sales were falling, and that in the past eight months sales on the Volkswagen side had been better than the Dodge side, "We never thought this day was coming," Lee said. "We never thought it would come to this."
Still, both Keedy and Lee know they're better off than dealerships that just sold one line of cars because they can fall back on the Volkswagen brand.
"We're luckier than some," Lee said. "We have to be thankful for what we can make out of it."
|As salesman Davian Kerley demonstrates the switches and controls, Anita Di Lena gets used to the driver's seat of the 2004 Dodge Durango she bought Friday.
Still, Keedy said, "It's a shame that the Chrysler Corporation treats its dealers like they're treating us."
As salesman Davian Kerley showed her the controls on the Durango, Di Lena said there's something different about a dealership like Bob Boast when you're buying a vehicle.
"They care about you," she said. "They care about the individual.
"The legacy needs to be continued, and I think if corporate America closed this branch, they're doing themselves wrong. They should not close this place down."
Steve Hannan, 51, of Bradenton, a friend of the Di Lena family and a pharmacist, said he was sad to hear of the change.
"I kind of hate to see things change in the area. I've been here 32 years since '76," he said. "I'm used to the way things used to be. How they were smaller, more family oriented, a lot of the businesses.
"This was one of the establishments that was a mainstay of Bradenton."
Keedy said customers who need warranty work on their Dodge vehicles can go to a Chrysler Jeep dealer, but there will no longer be a Dodge sales outlet in Manatee County.
|Todd Lee with a Volkswagen New Beetle convertible for sale at Bob Boast Dodge Volkswagen.
He said that the economic downturn led to staff cuts at the dealership, from 74 to 47 people, but he's not sure yet if there will have to be more staffing cuts after their association with Dodge ends.
For Lee, it's the end of a long relationship between the Boast family and Dodge that really hurts.
"We have great business practices here, we have a great customer base and we're going to expand our Volkswagen facility and our pre-owned sales operation," he said. "We've been in business for 48 years at this location, and we're going to be in business for another 48 years. We're going to be here for our customers, our past and present and future customers."
With 50 to 60 new Dodge cars and trucks left on the lot, Keedy said either a deal may be worked out with another dealer through Chrysler to take the vehicles and the parts, or they will work on selling the remaining Dodges.
"You bet," Keedy said when asked if they'll try to sell the vehicles. "We're going to sell the living heck out of them for the next two weeks."
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