Merced Hyundai closes

01/28/2010 10:52 AM

01/29/2010 3:45 AM

Merced Hyundai has closed its doors.

A man who answered the general manager's phone Thursday morning confirmed that the auto dealership on 16th Street is no longer in business.

The closing is just the latest economic blow for Merced County. Last year, large retailers like Gottschalks and Mervyns closed their doors, and the county's only publicly traded corporation, County Bank, was shut down.

Merced Hyundai owner Jim Estes also owns Sanger Ford Mercury and TAG Auto in Fresno. The phone number for TAG Auto appears to be disconnected, and the man who answered the phone at Sanger Ford hung up when asked if they were open for business.

In Merced, Marilyn and Ralph Rocha peered into the windows of the dark salesroom early Thursday afternoon. The Delhi couple had a 1 p.m. service appointment for the red sedan they bought from the dealership a decade ago.

Inside, about 20 vehicles crowded the sales floor, and one light was on in a back office. The parking lot was empty, except for the Rochas' 2000 Elantra parked outside the showroom.

Until now, they haven't had any complaints.

The car has more than 100,000 miles on its odometer and has been taken on several multiple-state vacations, Ralph Rocha said.

After noticing a problem with the axle, they made the service appointment Tuesday afternoon -- the same day that the dealership apparently closed its doors for good.

"Nobody called to notify us," Marilyn Rocha said. "It's bad business."

Ralph Hweih, owner of neighboring Ralph's Auto Sales, said employees of Merced Hyundai told him they were fired Tuesday night.

Hweih operated a used car lot at 21st Street and Yosemite Park Way for six years, but made a strategic relocation next door to Merced Hyundai five months ago.

"We thought it was going to last because they built the new building," he said. "It's going to be kind of critical for us now."

A sign on the Merced Hyundai window promises "certainty in uncertain times."

Apparently, that's not true in Merced.

Online editor Brandon Bowers can be reached at (209) 385-2464 or bbowers@mercedsun-star.com.

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