It took an act of Congress, a national TV appeal and maybe a little bit of history on the owners' side. But Main Motors, the Anoka car dealership that Lee and Karen Carlson's family has owned for 91 years, will keep its General Motors dealership after all.
Last year, Main Motors was among more than 30 Minnesota GM dealerships designated for termination, although it had exceeded recent sales objectives. Two months ago, 20 of 30 Minnesota dealerships that were fighting GM through arbitration had their dealerships restored, but Main Motors was not among them and faced an end to its relationship with GM this October.
But weeks before it was to go to arbitration with GM in mid-May, the dealership was told by the company that it could keep its franchise and order new Chevrolets and Cadillacs, Karen Carlson said.
"We're over the moon, we're so excited," she said. "A lot of people worked very hard for 11 months to make this happen."
A national rallying cry on behalf of Main Motors was sounded last June when Fox News morning host Gretchen Carlson, Lee and Karen Carlson's daughter, challenged the reason for shutting her family's dealership during an appearance on Glenn Beck's show.
"I'd like to get hold of the car czar," Gretchen Carlson said on Beck's show. The former Miss America said that her parents' dealership was profitable and that they "lay awake at night worrying" about the fate of their business, and said that survival in the auto business may be about "who you know and who you can speak to."
The Carlsons continued to reach out. Karen Carlson said she visited with Sen. Amy Klobuchar and, ultimately, every other member of Minnesota's congressional delegation. The Carlsons also contacted key members of the Minnesota Auto Dealership Association and the Legislature's Commerce Committee. The couple monitored the plight of three large car dealers, scattered across the country, that were to be terminated but fought to remain alive.
All along, the Carlsons lobbied for a congressional bill, ultimately signed into law last Dec. 17, that allowed terminated dealers the right to arbitration. Their arbitration hearing was scheduled for May 13 and 14, Karen Carlson said.
Back in March, when Main Motors wasn't among the dealerships that were reinstated, she asked: "How would you like to be fighting tooth and nail to get back what already belongs to you?"
The store's inventory was dwindling. Customers were no longer rushing through the door, as they once had, Karen Carlson said.
Everything changed on April 7, when two GM executives visited with the Main Motors staff. They discussed the dealership's history -- before and since the termination announcement, "and at the end of the discussion they decided they would like to offer an agreement to reinstate us," she said.
Ten days later the offer came, she said.
Now, after 11 months, the Carlsons can order new cars.
Main Motors "managed to keep almost all of our employees," Karen Carlson said. When the auto industry crashed, the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association feared that 3,200 jobs in the state would be in jeopardy. The state's new-car dealerships accounted for $10 billion in revenue and nearly 19,000 jobs in 2008, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association.
"Memorial Day weekend will mark our 91st anniversary," Karen Carlson said. "This year, we have reason to celebrate."
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419