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Salentine Closing: Good Business, Service Couldn't Overcome Economics

Despite a supportive community, the economics of the car market weren't working in Salentine's favor, as the nearly 90-year-old business closed last week.

For the most part, reaction to the closing of Salentine Buick was as united as it was when Salentine stood to lose its GM franchise about three years ago. Then, community members wrote GM and petitioned Congress to save the dealership.

The result was successful, but the economics of the car market couldn't be overlooked. Namely, that bigger is better and having a variety in brand makes a dealership diverse and more able to handle downturns in the economy. 

Salentine sold only the Buick line after GM discontinued the Pontiac brand, which is a model that's a thing of the past, according to Jim Tolkan, president of the Automobile Dealers Association of Mega Milwaukee.

"The single point store in a metro area where there are multiple dealerships with the same brand is a thing of the past," Tolkan told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Readers who commented on the story that broke Feb 12 were saddened, and pointed to other industry trends as a possible factor. 

"It is indeed a very sad day for the Salentine family and the city of Muskego," wrote Cheryl Wojnowski. "One wonders why? Was GM pushing for a remodel like so many other dealerships are currently doing? Was it too much money? They have fought so hard to keep the business our heart goes out to them."

In fact, Salentine was facing another remodel in coming years, something that manufacturers have been forcing dealers to do. 

"The one we did 10 years ago, it was a huge mortgage," Sorensen told the Journal Sentinel. "If we could have probably stayed the way we were, we'd still be here today, but the mortgage was just huge." Another renovation may have added another $2 million to the mortgage. "It just wasn't feasible any more," she said.

However, beyond economics was the brand of service to the community that most readers felt made the news especially personal. 

"What a sad day for Muskego and the entire Salentine family. Salentine's has always been involved with our community supporting many events and activities," Walter Spitzer wrote. "We can always hope that this is a temporary situation and that they will recover. Our thoughts are with the entire Salentine family and employees."

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