RIPLEY- A Jackson County automobile dealership has expanded its size and product lines with the addition of Chevrolet vehicles and products.
The new I-77 Chevrolet dealership on South Church Street opened on Labor Day and held its grand opening on Oct. 27, drawing nearly 500 people to the site, formerly the longtime Ripley dealership Tom Peden Chevrolet, owner-operator Robin Blankenship, owner-operator of I-77 Ford on Charleston Road at Ripley and the new I-77 Chevrolet dealership.
Both will be known as the I-77 Auto Group, she said.
Photo by Wayne Towner
Robin Blankenship, seated in a 2013 Camaro SS, is the owner-operator of I-77 Chevrolet, which opened in September on the former Tom Peden property in Ripley, joining her I-77 Ford dealership, also in Ripley. Her staff includes, standing from left, Kevin Casto (sales manager), Tyler Geyer (sales), Tom King (manager), Ralph Sayre (manager), Cory Love (sales) and Riley Romeo (sales manager).
Blankenship has been involved in the automobile business for 40 years, she said. She came to I-77 Ford over 11 years ago as manager and became owner-operator a couple of years later.
"We've been very successful," Blankenship said of the I-77 business. "We're basically the only dealership that remained in Jackson County after the recession."
The former Tom Peden site at Ripley had been vacant for about two-and-a-half years when she decided to purchase it in July and re-open it as a Chevrolet dealership, Blankenship said. Chevrolets are sold at the south end of the half-mile lot and will be joined by Jeep, Dodge and Ram vehicles at the north end of the lot in the near future, she said.
The two dealerships offer a wide range of vehicles, products and services at the two Ripley sites, including extended service hours from 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday.
"We have $5.3 million worth of new vehicles and $1 million worth of used vehicles on this lot," she said of the Chevrolet site. "At the Ford dealership we have over $3 million in new vehicles and $2 million in used."
The response from the community, customers and manufacturers has been positive in the first two months of the new dealership, allowing I-77 to meet monthly sales goals at both locations, Blankenship said.
Among the most popular makes and models have been the Chevrolet Silverado pickup trucks, along with other vehicles, she said.
"This area just left a big empty black hole in our small town," Blankenship, a Ripley native, said of the South Church Street site during the time it was closed.
"No one wanted to drive by the area, with no lights. When you take an area that was a half a mile long and was once a very viable, thriving dealership, it just left a big black hole in our town," she said.
"That's one reason my husband and I went ahead and took a leap of faith," Blankenship said. "We are hoping that the community supports us and I believe they will," Blankenship said. "We've actually exceeded our Chevrolet objective for the last two months, so that's positive."
Looking at the near future, both sites will be remodeled according to GM and Chrysler image guidelines in the next two years, probably beginning next summer, Blankenship said.
The new Chevrolet site allowed I-77 Auto to add 20 people there, with interest in hiring about 15 more - to the 30 employees at the Ford site.
The opening of the new Chevrolet site allowed I-77 Auto to add 20 people at the new site - with interest in hiring about 15 more - to the 30 employees at the Ford site, Blankenship said.