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The dust has settled at Gresham Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Gresham Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram's remodel increased the buildings footprint by nearly 3,000 square-feet, mostly to the showroom. Construction costs ran in the neighborhood of $2 million and displaced department managers and business office staff for nearly six months.

Anybody who has taken on even a minor remodel of a home knows you have to be flexible during the process.

But when you remodel a functioning business, you really need a sense of humor.

“It was a lot like Murphy’s Law,” said Jason King, parts manager at Gresham Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram. “This has been sort of like the blind leading the blind, with people working in a lot of different places, but now, it feels like we went from 1974 to 2014 almost overnight.”

The last few months may have been a test of patience for staff at Gresham Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, but like a Phoenix rising, the dealership has emerged with a new look to accompany its expanded vehicle lines.

The low-rise once-earth-toned building now sports an arched main entrance, framed by a pristine exterior and windowed façade. Service and parts departments have been updated and modernized and a larger lounge area for customers features USB ports for mobile device charging.

The remodel at Gresham Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, which cost in the neighborhood of $2 million, wasn’t simply a facelift. It also represents a sign that the American car industry is still alive and producing.

Dorian Boyland opened Gresham Dodge in 1987 on a 2.9-acre parcel, once home to a lighting business. The dealership was one of several in the area that for years represented the “big three” American auto manufacturers — General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.

But when the economy tanked in 2008, hundreds of dealerships across the country closed as the auto industry struggled to reorganize financially. Chrysler was forced into bankruptcy in 2009, followed by GM a year later. Gresham Chrysler Jeep, which had been on East Powell Boulevard for decades, shuttered its business in 2008, leaving no authorized local dealer for its customers.

But in June 2013, Gresham Dodge learned it had been awarded the Chrysler Jeep line of vehicles. Construction on the dealership began in earnest in September.

“Part of the arrangement with the new cars was to remodel the facility,” said Paul Suvanvej, general manager. “We are now the only multi-line dealer in Multnomah County for Chrysler.” by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Paul Suvanvej, general manager of Gresham Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, said the dealerships overhaul was part of an arrangement to acquire the Chrylser Jeep line of vehicles. Gresham Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram is now the only multi-line dealer in Multnomah County for Chrysler.

What sounded like a simple expansion and updating process quickly spiraled into a scenario resembling a television comedy, King said. Fifty-one employees were displaced for nearly six months, while walls were rearranged and new flooring was installed.

Sales people worked from two portable trailers on the back of the property, with little heat during the winter and pipes that constantly froze. During business hours, they camped out under dining canopies in the parking lot so customers would know the dealer was open.

Business office staff and department managers took up residence across the street in space supplied by Central Source Mortgage Banking. ADP provided secure wireless services to the dealership’s computer servers so paperwork for customers could continue to be processed.

“(Central Source Mortgage) was awesome to let us use a couple extra rooms, but we were pretty crowded,” King said. “Basically, it was like moving your desk into a closet and trying to work from there. We also only had one working rest room on site — a portable toilet like you have on an airplane — it froze and one time, it blew over in the parking lot during the wind.”

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - The dealership's facade hadn't been altered since Dorian Boyland opened the business in 1987. Along with a completely new exterior, landscaping was overhauled to increase the building's visibility. The remodel expanded the building’s footprint by approximately 3,000 square feet, Suvanvej said, most of it to the showroom. Customers continued to trickle in during the dust and confusion, but business has definitely picked up since the new signage went up.

“It’s created a lot of awareness for Jeep customers, because they didn’t know we sold and serviced Jeeps,” Suvanvej said. “The whole showroom was completely remodeled. It used to be a four to five car showroom. Now, we can put about 15 cars in there.”

The dealership also is ramping up its sustainable business practices, as a participant in the city of Gresham’s GREAT Business Program, with concerted efforts in recycling and energy reduction.

“We’re using way less energy than we ever did before,” King said. “All our lighting is LED now and we’re reaching out to the community so we can purchase recycled materials when it’s possible. We were already recycling card board, paper and (service) fluids.”

Suvanvej said the dealership hopes to hold a grand reopening sometime in June, but right now, he’d really like to get rid of the boxes in his office.

“Our staff has been really good about all this and so have our customers,” Suvanvej said. “But everybody was glad to move back in.”

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