WENTZVILLE, Mo. (AP) -- Two years after Chrysler shut down a dealership outside of St. Louis, Century Motor Corp. is back in business.
The dealership began selling Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep products on Monday for the first time since it was shuttered by Chrysler in 2009, one of 789 dealerships that Chrysler closed as part of the automaker's bankruptcy restructuring plan. Century won its arbitration case with Chrysler last year, one of fewer than three dozen Chrysler dealerships to win the right to reopen.
"It's a David vs. Goliath story," said Kevin Mock, Century's general manager, whose family owns the business. "We were vindicated. That's what we were arbitrating for - to get back our family business that was stolen from us."
Congress mandated that the revoked dealerships be given the option to seek reinstatement through binding federal arbitration. Of 108 dealerships that went to arbitration, Century was among 32 that won. Twenty-one are back in business, Chrysler spokesman Mike Palese said. Century is the only Missouri Chrysler dealership to reopen.
Chrysler closed about one quarter of its dealer network as part of its bankruptcy plan. General Motors also shut down a number of dealerships as both companies sought to become viable in government-led bankruptcies.
"There were too many dealers chasing too few customers," Palese said. "And in some cases, you had too many dealers in one area. It was very destructive competition of sorts that was a detriment to them, and to the company."
But Mock said the closing never made sense for Century since it was a profitable business in a fast-growing community. Wentzville, about 40 miles west of St. Louis, saw its population more than triple, according to the latest census.
So soon after the closures, Century and several other Chrysler dealerships lobbied Congress, which approved legislation later in 2009 that required arbitration for closed dealers who wanted to remain open. Palese said 418 originally filed for arbitration, though only 108 cases eventually were heard.
Mock said the arbitrator ruled in May that Century "was a good, profitable dealer, that we had good standing in the marketplace, and that we should not have been terminated."
But Chrysler and Century continued to wrangle over terms for reopening the dealership, prompting a lawsuit filed by Century in June. The case was settled late last year, opening the way for the dealership to get back in business.
Palese wouldn't comment specifically on Century's case but said Chrysler Group LLC is happy to move past the arbitration process. He called the bankruptcy "difficult and gut-wrenching, but it was very successful."
Other dealerships continue to fight in court. Earlier this month, 64 former Chrysler dealers from 29 states filed a federal lawsuit against the government, claiming their dealer franchises were closed without adequate compensation. They alleged damages of at least $130 million.
Century now has 25 employees, about 20 fewer than when it closed. Mock is hopeful to soon get back to 45 workers, perhaps more.
"It was a shock to everyone what happened," Mock said. "We're glad to be back."
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)