Delaware car dealers hoping for exemption to reopen

Car dealers like Holden Dodge on South Governors Avenue in Dover are temporary closed because of the possible threat of spreading the coronavirus. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — William “Bill” Holden Jr., third-generation general manager and vice president of the Holden Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram dealership, sat alone at his desk inside a darkened quiet showroom as rain fell Wednesday.

Mr. Holden is among several in the automobile dealership industry hoping Delaware’s government follows Maryland and allows them to reopen for business during the coronavirus pandemic.

After all, his family’s prominent Dover automobile dealership at 640 S. Governors Ave. celebrated its 75th anniversary in February.

“With so many uncertainties right now, yes, I would certainly like to be open,” Mr. Holden said. “This is a little unusual for us.

“We’ve been in business here for 75 years and have never been told we couldn’t open. We’ve been through some really tough times in the past, from manufacturer’s bankruptcies to recessions and wars, but we always managed to scratch out our portion of the market and survive even through the toughest times, but when the government mandates that you can’t even open your doors, there’s not a lot you can do.”

Mr. Holden said if Delaware lawmakers don’t do something to help the businesses, many might not survive.

“We will lose business to (Maryland),” he said. “There’s a number of larger dealer groups that I’m sure own dealerships in both states and they’ll be instructing customers to cross the border to one of their other locations (in Maryland).

“I certainly would if I had that resource available. I can’t blame them, but we’ll lose business to them, that’s for sure.”

Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce President Judy Diogo said she heard concerns from local auto dealers Tuesday. She then began working the phones to build momentum for reopening in some capacity. Others are involved in the cause too, she said.

Open by appointment would increase opportunity to buy and sell, Ms. Diogo said she heard from dealership management.

“There are a lot of people who are not shopping just to have a new vehicle but just need one for basic reasons,” she said. “Their current one may be broken down or need big repairs.

“Those folks need to get to work now, travel to buy groceries or make medical appointments, use them to keep a business going.”

Ms. Diogo reached out to state Rep. William Bush, whose district includes Cheswold and the north Dover area.

“He’s a very flexible person and was willing to make some calls,” she said. “He said this issue is in front of the governor now and we’re waiting to hear back.”

Attempts to reach Gov. John Carney and Rep. Bush for comment Wednesday were not immediately successful.

Ms. Diogo believes the “Delaware Way” will allow vehicle dealers and the governor to find a mutual solution that benefits all.

“The big thing everyone needs to understand is that this (overall situation) is completely unprecedented,” Ms. Diogo said. “Nobody can probably understand just how many decisions Gov. Carney is making right now.

“So much changes every day and some decisions must be revisited. We all have to be patient and let the system work.”

‘Our people, our employees’

It’s not just moving automobiles that concerns Mr. Holden the most.

“Our primary concern right now is our people, our employees, and being able to keep everybody and pay them and pay all their benefits,” he said. “Whether you agree with these drastic measures that the government is taking or not, this has got to end at some point. Obviously, there’s disagreements in terms of the timeline, but I think we all agree that we can’t shut down the economy indefinitely.

“At some point it’s just got to end, and I’d like to be able to be intact when we get to the other side of this, and by that I mean primarily have all my people and pay them. It’s very upsetting for me.”

It’s especially tough given the long, hard-earned tradition that his family name represents.

“It’s a lot of work and I’m proud to be third generation, proud to represent Fiat-Chrysler automobiles and their current product lineup,” Mr. Holden said. “We have 43 full-time employees and a lot of them have been with me a long time.

“I’m very fortunate that I have a lot of good people who’ve been with us a long time, from the sales floor to the service department and everywhere else. You could say we’re one big extended family.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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