Hermitage car dealership, considered ‘nonessential,’ forced to lay off employees

Coronavirus

"I started the day two Fridays ago with 57 employees, 57 families and I finished the day with 12," the manager said

HERMITAGE, Pa. (WKBN) – All nonessential businesses across the Valley have been closed for over a week now. But the list of businesses allowed to operate is different in Pennsylvania than in Ohio. In PA, car dealerships were forced to close.

When Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf closed all nonessential businesses, car dealerships across the state were forced to lay off their entire sales staff.

It happened at the Montrose GM dealership in Hermitage.

On March 20, general manager Justin Buzzell had to give the bad news to nearly 80% of his staff — they had no work for the foreseeable future.

“Honestly, it was the toughest day in the car business for me,” he said. “I started the day two Fridays ago with 57 employees, 57 families and I finished the day with 12.”

The news came at a terrible time for the dealership, which was doing record business at the start of the year.

“We had a great February with all of our departments — sales and service,” Buzzell said. “We were out of the gates setting records for the first part of the month in all departments and it just stopped.”

He disagrees with the state classifying the sales department as nonessential.

“It’s pretty essential to have a vehicle to get back and forth to work and getting things of that nature,” he said. “It’s interesting because in our area, probably similar in Youngstown, there’s a lot of essential businesses still open and they still need to get back and forth to work.”

Buzzell knows many of his customers have gone to dealerships in Ohio for new cars.

He agrees, however, with the governor’s decision to encourage people to engage in social distancing.

Buzzell said there’s no other way to get to the other side than to endure the current pain.

“Unfortunately, this is something we’re going to have to ride it out, and I hope and I pray that once we do ride it out, that we can get back on track and get back to what we want to be doing, which is taking care of people and, hopefully, selling a bunch of cars.”

Montrose, like many dealerships in the Valley, offers online shopping. Buyers can shop on dealer websites and have a new car delivered to their homes.

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