NEWELL - People are so happy that another car dealership is opening in Newell, they've been giving Rob Cellini hugs.
Cellini, general manager of the new Hancock County Chrysler, described such an experience at a local bank when two women learned who he was and what he was doing in town.
"People have been very receptive," he said.
Hancock County Chrysler General Manager Rob Cellini (seated) and Sales Manager Sean Broadbent are preparing for Monday’s opening of the Newell car dealership. (Photo by Stephen Huba)
The dealership, whose full name is Hancock County Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram, is opening on Monday after eight months of behind-the-scenes preparations by P.J. Latsko of Beaver County Chrysler.
The Pennsylvania dealership's interest in the former C. Hackett Chrysler site has been an open secret in Newell for months. Cellini and other Beaver County Chrysler officials have ridden in several area parades this summer, with HancockCountyAuto.com and a phone number emblazoned on the sides of their vehicles.
But it was not until July 15, when the Newell site received its franchise number from Chrysler, that Cellini was free to talk about the dealership's plans.
"This is a big investment in the community," he said, "so we're depending on the community to be behind us."
Hancock County Chrysler's opening at 400 Washington St. is in anticipation of it eventually building and moving to a state-of-the-art facility on the old Newell Memorial Field site, Cellini said.
Hancock County commissioners announced the sale of the 3.7-acre site in April but did not give details because of a nondisclosure agreement between Latsko and the Business Development Corporation (BDC) of the Northern Panhandle, the owner of the property.
The BDC bought Newell Memorial Field-and two other pieces of property-from county commissioners in December 2013 for a stipulated $500,000, although the county will not receive the purchase price until any or all the properties are sold.
Cellini said the decision to buy the football stadium property, once owned by Hancock County Schools, went a long way toward convincing Chrysler to give the Beaver County businessmen a chance in Hancock County.
"We bought it in advance to persuade Chrysler to let us open the (Newell) point up," Cellini said. "They really were close to closing this place."
The dealership's status had been in limbo ever since Hackett filed for bankruptcy in August 2013. The estate of Basil Mangano, former owner of the Newell Central Service car dealership, bought back the Washington Street property in a sale in May and has been leasing it to Latsko, according to Hancock County Clerk's Office records.
Latsko decided to buy the Memorial Field site in January and brought in Chrysler officials from Detroit to look at the property while there was still snow on the ground, Cellini said.
Chrysler's decision to keep the dealership open was based in large part on Latsko's track record in Beaver Falls and the promise of having a new facility in Newell, Cellini said.
"They love the way we run our store up there," he said.
"They really went to bat with Chrysler to keep this point open," Sales Manager Sean Broadbent said. "They know it's pretty important to the community."
Broadbent previously was general manager for Hackett, as well as a longtime staffer with Newell Central Service.
In April, Latsko put a 10 percent deposit on the Memorial Field property, prompting the BDC to take it off the market, said BDC Executive Director Patrick Ford.
"We were confident that they were going to close the deal. It was just going to be a matter of time," Ford said. A closing date on the sale, estimated to be $250,000, has not yet been scheduled, he said.
Ford said the BDC and county commissioners worked with Latsko to ensure that he could obtain the former Hackett dealership, despite the bankruptcy proceedings, and purchase the football stadium property at the same time.
Both actions were necessary for a successful deal, he said.
"There are a lot of people who had to be very cooperative to make this work," he said, noting that the help of the Mangano estate also was important.
Ford said the sale is a harbinger of good things to come for Newell and Hancock County.
"We've always felt that Hancock County in general, and Newell in particular, needed a catalytic project of this nature to stimulate future investment in the heart of Hancock County," he said. "(Latsko) was an individual with a proven track record in the car sales business, and the investment he's making for this new facility, coupled with the number of jobs he's going to be creating, is going to be a major catalyst for economic development in Newell."
Cellini said Hancock County Chrysler will be the only new car dealership in Hancock County and employ about 20 people, including mechanics, sales people and office staff.
"We saw there was some good potential here," he said. "It's quite a big area with no other car dealerships, so we figured we'd take a chance on Hancock County."
The dealership expects to maintain an inventory of 100 new vehicles, including trucks, and 50 used vehicles. The service department is licensed for West Virginia motor vehicle inspections and can handle up to eight vehicles at a time, Broadbent said.
Hours will be 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday and Thursday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. The service department will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
Shuttles will be available for customers who are having their cars serviced, Cellini said.
As for the new facility, whose pricetag is an estimated $2 million, it probably will take two years to complete, Ford said. A performance clause in the sales contract likely will stipulate a starting date for construction and other details, he said.
"We're going to do everything we can to help them meet their time frame," Ford said.