Auburn’s longtime family dealer Brewer bows out gracefully

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Changing times and a challenging economic climate have cost Auburn another longtime, family-run establishment.

Cavanaugh Ace Hardware, an iconic downtown store and part of the community for 121 years, closed in February.

And now, Brewer Chrysler is shutting its doors after 56 years of service to its loyal customers. The targeted closing date is July 18. The lot will grow empty by the end of the month.

All but a few of its 30-plus employees have landed elsewhere, many working in the same sector.

The property will become another business, but not another auto dealership. Brewer, an Auburn fixture since 1952, has occupied the lot since 1986.

The passing weeks have been difficult for a business that prides itself on a soft-sell approach, warm handshakes and strong service. Foremost, Brewer is all about family.

“I feel like I really let my customers down,” said Keith Hagerty, the dealership’s general manager and principal owner. “It’s difficult … but it’s also good. Every time I faced a challenge in my life, I’ve found my way through it.”

In what has been a emotional period for Hagerty and his staff, Brewer Chrysler soon will be gone. The dealership will complete its sale by the end of the month to Tom Matson Dodge, whose line of Chryslers, Jeeps and other Mopar vehicles line a spacious lot just up the road on Auburn Way North’s auto row.

All efforts have been made to assure customers that Matson and other area Dodge dealerships will be able to handle their needs.

Some customers are unhappy about the loss, others reluctantly must move on.

As Hagerty explains, the move is an effort to facilitate Chrysler Corporation’s desire to consolidate its dealerships and offer its varied products under one roof in each of its sales localities.

“While this did not parallel our long-term ends,” Hagerty wrote to his customers, family and friends, “we understand the benefits of both manufacturer and consumer and support this consolidation effort.”

The auto market has been slowed dramatically. High gas prices, the decreased demand for fuel-guzzling luxury vehicles and a souring economy have impacted the auto industry. Auburn is not immune.

But Hagerty insists those factors didn’t necessarily drive the sale of his dealership.

“Those markets are still moving, but not as well as we would like them to,” he said.

Chrysler is changing how it is doing business. The group is eliminating redundant badge-engineered vehicles and gearing the remaining lineup to dealerships that carry all three brands under the same roof. Chrysler began talking with dealers in metro markets about which ones wanted to sell out. Chrysler envisions a smaller dealer body in urban areas, with bigger and more profitable stores.

Such a transition has been difficult to swallow, but most are convinced that this is a direction the company should follow.

Chrysler’s restructuring plan and new vision for product development, named Project Genesis, is facing some expected criticism from many dealers. However, others are praising the cost-cutting, model-trimming and dealer-consolidation program that’s happening as a result.

“This truly needs to happen,” said Hagerty, who has been with Brewer since 1971. “The duplications, overlays need to go away.”

But such a move stings. Brewer was good business.

For Hagerty, who grew up in Auburn and lives today in Lake Tapps with his family, it marks the end of one chapter and the start of another. He intends to stay in the business. He has entertained offers to open a dealership elsewhere in the Puget Sound area.

Like the Brewer family before them, the Hagertys continued the long tradition of running a reputable, family-like dealership in Auburn. Hagerty’s father, Gene, became a partner with the Brewers in 1964 and eventually assumed operations. The Hagertys purchased the balance of the business 10 years later.

That legacy now ends. Brewer is the oldest-franchised Chrysler dealer in King and Pierce counties.

Hagerty said he will miss the day-to-day interaction with co-workers and customers. He wants to thank the many supporters and customers who have come his way.

“I’m going to walk away with my head held up,” he said. “I plan on landing on my feet.

“It’s been a privilege to serve you.”

Mark Klaas can be reached at 253-833-0218, ext. 5050, or mklaas@reporternewspapers.com

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