Susan Schein preps for life after Chrysler

Susan Schein Chrysler Dodge in Pelham lost its Chrysler LLC franchise June 9, one of 789 dealerships nationwide to receive a pink slip from the bankrupt automaker.

“I can barely drive by there, to be honest with you,” said Schein, who was notified May 14 that her franchise agreement with Chrysler would not be renewed. “It’s just unbelievable that they could tell me, after 27 years, you have three weeks to go out of business.”

A “Going out of business sale” sign hung outside the dealership on Pelham Parkway as customers purchased 80 of the 84 new Chrysler vehicles left on the lot. Schein said the vehicles were sold at prices $1,000 to $3,000 less than non-affected Chrysler dealerships.

The remaining four Chrysler vehicles were redistributed to other dealerships. However, Schein had to pay Chrysler $1,750 to $2,000 for each unsold vehicle.

Schein said 35 employees were laid off as a result of the closing. More than half of those employees have found jobs, and four were reassigned to Schein’s Chevrolet dealership, which faces closure in 2010. General Motors Corp., which owns the Chevrolet brand, announced May 15 it will terminate franchise agreements with 1,100 dealerships nationwide.

Schein said the abrupt end of her relationships with Chrysler and GM hasn’t worn her resilience. She plans to either open a body shop on her Chrysler property or sell the Chrysler property and convert her vacant Pelham Acclaim Auto Rental property on Pelham Parkway to a body shop. Customers who’ve purchased Chrysler vehicles from Schein may have them serviced at her Chevrolet dealership at 3171 Pelham Pkwy., adjacent to Home Depot.

Schein is also considering acquiring other vehicle franchises.

“We plan to continue to be here for long time, but in a different form,” Schein said. “Instead of Susan Schein Chrysler or Chevrolet, it’ll be Susan Schein Automotive.”

Local and state legislators have lent their support to Schein and other affected dealers.

U.S. Rep. Artur Davis (D-Birmingham) was among 14 members of Congress last week to introduce the Automobile Dealer Economic Restoration Act, a bill that forces Chrysler and GM to restore franchise agreements with affected dealers.

The Pelham City Council on Monday will vote on a resolution in support of Schein’s dealerships. Mayor Don Murphy, who proposed the resolution, said the loss of Schein’s franchise agreements will affect the city’s budget.

“Our federal government has put them out of business,” Murphy said. “You’re taking our tax dollars and you’re putting people out of business who were doing good. We need to rally behind (Schein) and write to our officials to wake up and see what they’re doing.”

While Schein applauds legislators’ efforts, she believes the protest falls on deaf ears.

“I’m afraid the decisions have been made and they’re not going to listen,” she said. “The more people who try to have their voice heard, we stand a better chance, but my gut feeling is that it’s too late.”

Schein said the volume of well-wishes from the community have been nothing short of amazing. She and her staff are drafting a letter for customers and supporters, thanking them for their cards, letters and phone calls.

Schein has personally adopted one of her well-wishers’ sentiments.

“When one door closes, a better one opens,” she said.