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I-77 Chevrolet dealership opens at old Tom Peden spot

By Megan Workman

RIPLEY, W.Va. -- Robin Blankenship's I-77 Ford in Ripley survived a recession that she refused to participate in.

Now the co-owner of the car dealership has opened a second dealership just a couple of miles down the road off Interstate 77's Fairplain exit.

Blankenship bought the former Tate-Porter Family Auto Mall -- which had been the well-known Tom Peden Country for more than 20 years -- in July. The half-mile long property that had been vacant for two years is now I-77 Chevrolet.

The Ripley Chevrolet dealership, which opened last month, is hosting a grand opening "Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet" on Saturday.

Although the recent economic downturn closed hundreds of car dealerships nationwide, Blankenship said she didn't lay off one employee or cut pay. The I-77 Ford dealership thrived, she said.

Instead of watching news inside the dealership, Blankenship said the television played TV Land and avoided negativity as much as possible.

"We didn't participate in the recession. The day the economy collapsed we had a big meeting in our showroom and I said I would see a pay cut before anyone else and we would be fine if we just continued to do the things we know how to do, which is sell," Blankenship said Wednesday. "Most of our business comes from word of mouth and we've really relied on that during the recession. That's what brought us through."

Opening the I-77 Chevrolet this fall made sense, considering that "car sales are up and the economy is on the upswing," she said.

In 2011, vehicle sales continued to increase from the year before, according to a report by the National Automobile Dealers Association.

Dealership revenue nationwide topped $609 billion, growing by 10.2 percent in 2011, according to the NADA.

Sales for the nation's new-vehicle dealerships reached more than 12 million units in 2011.

As of the first of the year, there were 17,540 new-car dealerships in the U.S., compared to 17,700 in 2011 and 18,460 in 2010, according to NADA.

As of Jan. 1, West Virginia had 143 new-car dealerships, compared to 1,307 in California, the most of any state, and just 32 in Alaska.

Blankenship said she opened I-77 Chevrolet for her Ripley community. When the dealership closed for the second time, a part of town that was once well lit and busy -- as well as a job provider -- was difficult to look at, she said.

The empty lot "left a big black hole in our economy and community," Blankenship said.

"We [bought] it to re-energize the community. In a small community, to have a half-mile right in the middle of your town that once was thriving and beautiful to go to nothing is disturbing to drive by," she said.

Blankenship -- who has worked in the car business since she graduated from high school -- has co-owned I-77 Ford ever since it needed an owner and operator more than 11 years ago, she said.

I-77 Chevrolet -- which Blankenship said she "got a good buy on" but wouldn't say how much -- has a beautiful facility that needed only new tiling and cleaning, she said.

Forty-five employees have been hired, but Blankenship still needs to hire five more car salespeople.

I-77 Ford and I-77 Chevrolet will have the same business model, but they're not going to look the same because they sell different car models, she said.

The Ford lot has $2 million in inventory and the more spacious Chevy lot has $4.5 million in vehicles, Blankenship said.

The two dealerships cover 15 acres of space combined.

The grand opening is 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

The first 300 guests will get a free baseball. Apple pie and hot dogs will be served all day. There will be door prizes each hour, with a grand door prize of a flat screen TV given away at 4 p.m.

For information, call I-77 Chevrolet at 304-514-7077.

Reach Megan Workman at megan.workman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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