Bill Bowen was sitting in his sky-blue office at Enfield Chrysler Plymouth on Thursday morning when a UPS envelope arrived with a bright red sticker marked "Confidential."
"I knew something was up," he said a few hours later.
The letter from Chrysler said that after 46 years in business, Enfield Chrysler Plymouth would lose its franchise "on or about June 9, 2009."
The dealership where Bowen is general manager joined six others in Connecticut — one of which closed last month — on the list of 789 franchises nationwide, among 3,200, that Chrysler is revoking as part of its bankruptcy reorganization plan.
"We wish there was a better way, but there isn't," the letter said.
Bowen, like owners and managers at other targeted Connecticut franchises, said that the sudden loss felt like a betrayal, but that ultimately it was not likely to cripple their businesses.
Enfield Chrysler, for example, already sells five used cars for every new one and it remains "very sound financially," he said. It will not go out of business and it won't lay off any of its 21 employees, not immediately, anyway, Bowen said.
Still, said Bowen, who started as a salesman at the same dealership, "I'm a little hurt right at the moment. ... It's a personal thing. I've put 35 years of my life into this."
Chrysler, the beneficiary of $4 billion in federal loans, said that it has too many dealers competing with each other.
General Motors, which also is reorganizing under federal supervision, said Thursday that it intends to notify 1,100 of about 6,000 dealers today that they will lose their franchises. GM said that it intends to revoke a total of 2,600 franchises by the end of next year.
A GM spokeswoman said she did not know how many of Connecticut's 60 GM dealers would lose their franchises, and declined to say how they would be notified.
There are about 30 Chrysler dealers in the state, said James Fleming, president of the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association.
Other Chrysler dealerships whose franchise agreements will be "rejected" pending approval by a bankruptcy judge are Amaral Motors, Newtown; Country Motors, doing business as Bob's Dodge, Naugatuck; Crest Dodge, Woodbridge; Edward J. Wilson's Sons, Torrington; and Falvey's Inc., New London.
"We intend to maintain 'business as usual' with you until the rejection takes place," the Chrysler letter said.
Holley Chrysler Dodge Jeep of Middletown is also on the list, but already closed last month.
"We beat 'em to the punch," said Robert G. Holley, who bought the business in 1987. "We already put in a letter to give them back the franchise a month ago. They're not keeping up on their own paperwork."
Chrysler, which owns the Dodge and Jeep brands, had told Holley that he had to invest $400,000 to remain eligible for inventory financing, he said, adding, "I don't have $400,000."
All 25 of Holley's employees lost their jobs, including his son, a co-owner. Holley is retiring.
Most of the other dealers said they would remain in business as used car dealerships or rely more heavily on the other brands that they sell — Lincoln-Mercury, Mazda and Jaguar, for example, at Crest.
Some said they were already in talks with other manufacturers to sell their brands.
"I hope for foreign [automakers]," said John Mocadlo, general manager of Bob's Dodge in Naugatuck.
In its letter to Dana Miller, the owner of Enfield Chrysler Plymouth, Chrysler did not offer any reasons for revoking the franchise.
Bowen and executives at other Connecticut Chrysler dealers noted that the Detroit automaker has long wanted each dealership to sell all three of its major brands — Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep.
"I personally think they're taking advantage of [bankruptcy] to do what they wanted to do all along," said Bowen. "Consolidate the brands."
Because Chrysler is in bankruptcy, it probably will not be required to abide by state laws that force manufacturers to compensate franchisees for unsold inventory and other capital goods.
General Motors, by contrast, might have to pay compensation to its rejected dealers — if it remains out of bankruptcy.
Elsewhere around the nation, some Chrysler dealers were devastated. An angry Jim Anderer, owner of Island Jeep in Lindenhurst, N.Y., told Newsday and CNBC Thursday that he plans to fight back in court.
"I want to know how this happened in America," he said to Newsday. "I am a business that makes more than $1 million a year. I employ 50 people on Long Island. I've been terminated for no reason."
Anderer said that he has plenty of financial cushion to ride out the downturn, and that Chrysler, in effect, "took away my franchise and gave it to a competitor."
"I've got single mothers working here and single fathers struggling from paycheck to paycheck," he told Newsday. "How am I going to tell them we've been terminated for no reason?"
In Enfield, Bowen was still processing the news when a man rang the main office to ask if he could buy the dealership's sign, which still incorporates the Plymouth star, although that brand was discontinued in 2001. As it turns out, Chrysler owns the sign and will probably take it back, Bowen said.
That will be a sad day for him, even if the business ultimately prospers.
"Monetarily, I don't think it's going to hurt that much," he said. "It hurts personally taking the sign down."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun