OXFORD – When word came down last year that General Motors Corp. planned to sever ties with Goodwin Chevrolet Buick Pontiac of Oxford, the dealership and its employees took the punch — then fought back.

“It was shock,” said Jeanette Downing, Goodwin Motor Group’s general manager and a part owner of the Oxford dealership.

She said the company told her and the employees not to take what GM described as the “wind down” personally.

“I said, ‘Don’t tell me not to take it personal, it’s really personal,’ ” she said.

Goodwin put up a sign saying it was there to stay.

After appealing the termination, Goodwin Motor Group received a letter on May 26 saying GM would reinstate the Oxford dealership.

“Elated isn’t even a strong enough term,” Downing said of her reaction.

The termination notices were sent out to 1,100 dealerships nationwide in late May 2009, saying that contracts would not be renewed, and the locations would be closed by Oct. 31 in an effort to make Detroit-based GM profitable again.

The company will not reveal which of Maine’s 37 GM franchises received a notice, citing the owners’ privacy.

Dealers appealing the terminations worked with arbitrators from the American Arbitration Association. Individual hearings will come to an end Wednesday, said Ryndee Carney, GM’s manager of dealer communications.

“We treated each of these on an individual basis,” Carney said.

Some of the hearings involve agreeing to the same terms for starting a dealership, she said, such as having a certain amount of capital and proper facilities.

Downing said the dealership put in a lot of preparation for the arbitration, providing information on sales, service records and customer satisfaction.

It didn’t seem fair that the Oxford location, which was financially sound, was closed just because GM wasn’t, she said. The market should decide who closes and who stays open, not the company, she said.

Goodwin ranks very high with customer satisfaction, and a $1 million renovation completed in 2007 on the showroom, customer lounge, service area and restrooms made the decision to appeal a no-brainer, she said.

Frank Galos Chevrolet and Cadillac in Saco and Bill Dodge of Westbrook have already been reinstated, but the process is ongoing and there may be more to come, said Tom Brown, president of the Maine Automobile Dealers Association.

“(General Motors) wouldn’t have been in business all these years if (these dealers) weren’t doing a service to the local people and the manufacturer,” Brown said. “This whole (wind-down) process has been a significant mistake.”

The Galos and Dodge dealerships did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Mitch Woodbrey at Sebago Lake Chevrolet in North Windham had his GM contract terminated, but he says he plans to sell used cars after October.

“I think we’re lucky to be away from them” after things unraveled the way they did, Woodbrey said of GM. The dealership is still open and busy but will change its name once the contract elapses, he said.

Rick Smith, general manager at Goodwin in Oxford, prefers to say the franchise was “reborn” rather than “saved.” He plans to install custom signs, redo the front of the body shop and open the service center on Saturdays.

Besides that, it’s the hometown feel of local, family-owned dealerships that keeps people coming in, he said.

“GM does represent home,” Smith said.

Several of his customers agree.

Roger Morrill of Otisfield was having the oil changed on his Buick Terraza on Wednesday at the Oxford dealership.

“Local dealers are part of the fabric,” he said.

He bought his Terraza there and is now looking to buy a black 2010 Buick LaCrosse, too.

“I like to buy local. This is my community,” Morrill said after his test-drive. “They’ve been really good to me.”

Jim Dugan of Waterford visited the dealership for the first time to have the front end of his Volkswagen Passat realigned. He said he came there because he had heard about the good customer service.

While buyers might travel farther to buy a vehicle, they won’t travel to have it serviced, Downing said, and keeping the location open will save a lot of customers a long drive.

Closing dealerships during a recession in a small community like Oxford can really hurt when jobs are hard to come by, she said.

“This just would be another black eye,” Downing said. Roughly 20 jobs were saved in Oxford as a result of the reinstatement.

Now the dealership can begin receiving new vehicles again from GM, such as the Chevrolet Silverado and Traverse.

“I think Oxford deserves it,” Smith said.

Staff Writer Stephanie Hardiman can be contacted at 791-6301 or at:

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