By Jenny Neyman
After sitting idle for more than a year, the Chrysler dealership in Kenai is revving up again.
Although someone new holds the keys, there’s a familiar face at the wheel. Mel and Tony Stanley, based in Anchorage, also own Stanley Ford in Soldotna and have the local Budget Rent-A-Car franchise. Elsewhere in the state, they own Mitsubishi and Kia dealerships in Anchorage, a Nissan dealership in Fairbanks, and most Budget franchises in the state.
When word got out the Stanleys were planning to reopen the Chrysler dealership in Kenai, a former employee of the dealership made it clear he wanted to be part of it.
“I knew that they were interested in becoming the franchise dealer and wanted everyone to know how badly I wanted to get back to Kenai, so I started making phone calls,” said Duane Bannock, general manager of Stanley Chrysler.
Bannock grew up on the Kenai Peninsula and lived here most of his life, serving nine years on the Kenai City Council and working as vice president of Kenai Chrysler when Bob Favretto owned it. He and his family moved to Anchorage in February 2003 when he was appointed head of the state Division of Motor Vehicles by Gov. Frank Murkowski. Gov. Sarah Palin removed Bannock from that post in November 2007.
Bannock was ready to make good on his promise that his Anchorage residency would be temporary.
“When we left Kenai approximately five years ago, our goal was to return to Kenai,” he said. “It’s the only home I’ve ever had, it’s the only home I’ve ever loved. It’s just so exciting to be able to come back here.”
Bannock was a regular participant in community and civic events, often stationing himself in front of a grill for community cookouts.
“I can’t wait to do my first free barbecue here,” he said.
It hasn’t been determined yet whether the Chrysler dealership will continue the community events it participated in before, like hosting the ceremonial start of the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race. And Bannock wouldn’t say definitively whether he planned to run for public office again, but left the door open for politics.
“We’ll be full-fledged members of society,” he said. “You never can tell. I have not given up on all of my future ambitions.”
Stanley Chrysler opened its doors Sept. 15. The service department is open Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and is honoring warranty service contracts.
“We are happy to be back in business, to be able to take care of those customers,” Bannock said.
The dealership portion is still gearing up. Bannock said he hopes to have new inventory on the lot in 60 days. In the meantime, he’s planning on purchasing 2008 model, like-new used cars complete with warranties direct from Chrysler Corp.
“I’m into big inventory. We want to have a great selection of ultimately new and used cars and trucks to choose from,” Bannock said.
Fuel efficiency will drive some inventory choices, but it’s still Alaska, so even smaller vehicles need four-wheel and all-wheel drive, Bannock said.
“With fuel prices the way they are, you need something other than just a big pickup truck,” he said.
Rising gas prices have an impact on budgets, but Bannock said he didn’t think they would make people stop driving or buying vehicles.
“I think fuel prices certainly do affect us, what I’m not sure of is if they’ve affected our driving habits,” he said.
“We haven’t altered driving habits, but we might have altered other spending habits because of the price of fuel,” he said. “Driving a more fuel-efficient vehicle will just free up some money to go somewhere else, I think. People still have to drive to work; they drive to their kids’ sporting events and activities. Those things don’t change.”
Bannock said the Stanleys are familiar with the central Kenai Peninsula and the economic conditions here.
“I know they are up on the Kenai Peninsula. They’ve been extremely successful with Stanley Ford, and they like what they see in the community,” Bannock said. “They’ve been in business in the community before with Budget Rent-A-Car, and they own several parcels of property down here. They’re big on the place, so this has become another opportunity.”
Bannock is confident the dealership can succeed.
“I believe that Kenai’s best days are still in front of it. Obviously I’m not the only one who thinks that. Wal-Mart thinks that, Lowe’s thinks that. When you look at the explosion of retail estate, you look at new houses being built in the area; those are all indications of a good economy.
“Chrysler Corporation has always done well in Alaska, and in the Kenai Peninsula, and I’m just pleased to be a part of that.”