Dealerships also hit hard by ‘social distancing’

Master Certified Mopar Technician Terry Comstock makes an adjustment on a car Wednesday in the service area of Main Motorcar on Main Street in Johnstown. (The Leader-Herald/James A. Ellis)

JOHNSTOWN — The impact of coronavirus on the area’s car dealerships has already been severe, as layoffs and hardship has quickly become a reality.

The American public is suddenly not buying vehicles, as social distancing comes into play with Fulton County’s dealers. The state has shut down “non-essential” sales aspects of the car dealerships, but businesses are still allowed to service cars. Either way, the virus is inflicting damage on the auto sales sector.

People can browse car dealerships, but no sales people are coming out to answer their questions.

“It’s not just me, it’s everybody,” says Marc Treiber, owner of Treiber Nissan at 320 N. Comrie Ave. in Johnstown.

Treiber said Tuesday that he had to lay off approximately 10 people in the sales area. He said his Nissan dealership is complying with the state’s “non-essential” mandate. The services and parts end of the operation reports to work. He said he wishes he could sell cars, but people aren’t coming in now.

“Quiet would be a dramatic improvement,” Treiber said.

The auto businessman said he continues to track what’s going on, but it is not hopeful at this time. Still, he hopes for a rebound.

“We’re hoping sooner than later,” Treiber said.

He said he has the normal inventory for what would have been a normal time of the year, sales wise.

Treiber said he has a “simple fix” — everyone needs to ignore the media, go home and watch old Three Stooges movies and Abbott & Costello.

At Steet Toyota at 320 N. Comrie Ave. in Johnstown, the news isn’t any better.

“Our sales department is closed,” Vivienne Cirillo, general manager, said Tuesday.

She said Steet is maintaining 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. hours Monday through Friday, but is closed on the weekends.

“It’s obviously harmful to our business to be closed,” Cirillo said. “We can’t talk to [potential customers].”

Jeff Brown, owner of Brown’s Ford of Johnstown at 121 N. Comrie Ave. in Johnstown, said Tuesday that his dealership is “completely” consumed by the impact of coronavirus.

Brown said his business is “doing repairs,” taking on work such as police cars, ambulances and department of public works vehicles that need fixing. But he said everything else is not normal.

“The collision center is rolling,” he said.

Inside the dealership, he said he is taking all precautions for staff and public such as “wiping things down” constantly. He said Brown’s is maintaining a six-foot gap between people with social distancing.

“We believe this is the right thing to do,” Brown said. “The most important thing is our health. It’s very stressful. We’ve got a lot of good people at home that would be working.”

James Chevrolet at 108 S. Comrie Ave. in Johnstown has had to cut staffing in half, according to Assistant Service Manager Jason Craver. He said he has five employees for parts and service.

“We can’t sell anything,” he said.

Craver said Wednesday that he does have appointments, but activity remains down.

“It decreased a lot,” he said. “It’s nowhere near capacity.”

According to J.D. Power, the impact of the coronavirus could mean millions of fewer vehicles sold this year than earlier projections. The report says the industry can recover, although any recovery will be influenced by a “highly uncertain” post-virus economic environment as well as any potential government stimulus and whether automakers offer any discounts. And the decision by Ford, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and other automakers to suspend production could have an impact on the industry’s ability to catch up on production levels depending on the length of that suspension. J.D. Power says the industry could see a decline of up to 3 million in retail vehicle sales for the year, and that total sales are likely to finish fall in a range of 14 to 16 million vehicles as “our pre-virus outlook” of 16.8 million in sales is not attainable.


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