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Contrary to rumors, historic Brewer Brothers going strong

NORTH CANAAN — One of North Canaan’s oldest businesses is not set to close, despite circulating rumors. The Brewer Brothers car dealership on Railroad Street is expected to remain an anchor business — and valuable employer of town residents —indefinitely.

Owner Fred Perkins is not surprised at the rumors, and is pleased that people care enough to be concerned. Two things are likely sparking the local talk, he believes.

There was the sale this summer of what was for eight years Daimler Chrysler, from the German-based company to the private partnership Cerberus Capital Management. Before that, a plan was underway to replace all dealership signs, changing the listing of brand names: Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep to their logos.

"The sign update started before the [Daimler Chrysler] sale," Perkins said. "The sign was partly up for awhile, and we had to repaint the front of the building and our dealership sign came down. I can see where it looked more like we might be going out of business."

People here value Brewer Brothers. The unusually large number of Jeeps and Dodge Ram pickups found in area driveways are primarily purchased here. Buyers like that it is locally owned, and the dealership has always gone the extra mile with service, particularly in helping customers get their cars to the shop, or giving them a ride back to work.

Perkins likes to tell the business’s history.

"It was started by my uncles, my mother’s brothers. They were the Brewer brothers. That was in 1911, before Chrysler was even invented. They originally sold REOs. They became a Chrysler dealership in 1934, when the cars first came out."

Perkins has a good handle on what is happening at Chrysler. A long-range plan calls for fewer dealerships. That was a strategy that began with Daimler’s buyout of the publicly owned company. It remained on the stock exchange while the new owner marketed vehicles closer to the way it sold its Mercedes Benz line, with far fewer dealers than Chrysler’s 4,000.

Now that it’s privately held, Perkins said there are no financial reports available for the company, but they seem to have started off on the right foot.

"There was a big meeting in Las Vegas for all the dealers. They hired a strategist who worked for Toyota. He understands the retail end of the business. He instituted a lot of programs at Toyota to improve production, and a plan to produce more cars to order."

The strategy also includes thinning the lineup of models, something Chrysler is currently pursuing aggressively. Economic experts say that, combined with reducing supply, drives up demand and prices. "I don’t know if the plan will work," Perkins said. "It’s not the way the automotive business was built in America, but I guess we’ll see."

He is confident Brewer Brothers will remain vital. He has a franchise agreement that cannot just be terminated. His son, Brad, has been at his side for 20 years. Perkins describes his team of employees as long-term and loyal. He believes attrition will take care of, in large part, reducing the number of dealers. A lot have been in business for a long time, he said, and have no one willing to take over.

If the North Canaan dealership is struggling, it’s to keep ahead of demand for repairs and maintenance service. Longer dealer warranties and diagnostics that are ever more complex are sending fewer people to independent garages.

"The closest Chrysler dealership is in New Milford," Perkins said, "so we handle a lot of cars sold elsewhere. Even if we didn’t sell a single car, I think we could stay in business."

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