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story.lead_photo.caption The bulding on Business 54 which formerly housed the Golden Corral is torn down Monday. The adjacent Callaway Chrysler will expand onto the property. Photo by Adam Brake / Fulton Sun.

A building described as an eyesore has been reduced to rubble to make way for a local car dealership's expansion.

Chris Kiel, manager at Callaway Chrysler, said the expansion of the dealership signals a bright future for the once recession-depleted car industry.

"(The automobile industry) has been back for quite a few years now," he said. "We were definitely hit hard, and a lot of dealerships closed. I think the industry is back, and it's good to keep people working to build the cars all the way down to the people who sell the cars."

The expansion of its lot off Westminster Avenue onto the adjacent lot which used to house a Golden Corral restaurant will make way for more options in the county, Kiel said.

"Business is expanding, and we're trying to get rid of an eyesore," he said. "Being a small community, with
Jefferson City and Columbia being so close, we always fight because some people think they need to go there for a better deal."

According to Kiel, expanding the lot and having more inventory will have a positive effect on the local economy.

"We think this benefits everyone," he said. "It benefits the community and keeps their dollars local. It also benefits our business and allows us to hire more salesmen and mechanics, which further helps the local economy."

In addition to creating jobs and keeping money in the county, Kiel said there are many businesses which rely on the sales of new cars.

"The opportunity to buy local helps everybody," he said. "You could connect so many businesses to the auto industry, and they would all suffer without us."

After the destruction of the building on the adjacent lot, Kiel said there will be an additional entrance on U.S. Business 54, which should draw in more customers.

"We're going to move our sign up and have an entrance on the 54," he said. "We're also going to make a driveway to connect the two lots. It's going to be a process we work on. It will be nice."

Callaway Chrysler was bought by new ownership nearly three years ago, and the team has been focusing on breaking existing stereotypes about dealerships, Kiel added.

"This is one industry that seems to be so tainted with a bad reputation," he said. "I've tried hard to let everyone know my door is always open. I'll talk to anyone and work out anything I'm able to work out."

In an industry often filled with false promises and too-good-to-be-true gimmicks, Kiel said his team prides itself in being authentic.

"You can run a good business and do it honestly," he said. "We want to expand; we want more inventory. But I still love doing business with a handshake and having a person's word mean something. I want customers to know we truly want to take care of them. They are our business."

Bruce Hackmann, economic development director for the Callaway Chamber of Commerce, said the expansion benefits the city for several reasons.

"I think the opportunity for the dealership to extend their dealership to the 54 is positive for them," he said. "I always feel like the old Golden Corral building was a buffer that was there. It's also had a hard time holding tenants."

A major part of economic development in a town revolves around auto dealers, Hackmann said.

"We need viable dealerships in this community," he said. "Between the Ford and Chrysler dealership, I'd say we have two very strong and aggressive dealerships. We hope they can be successful."

Having strong businesses in several industries is essential for economic success, Hackmann said.

"You want strong businesses of all kinds," he said. "You want people to have choices in their community. We don't want to force people to have to look outside Callaway County for other goods and services."

Kiel said he hopes people will give the dealership a chance and see for themselves how Callaway Chrysler is different from the typical dealer.

"Stop in, say hi and grab a coffee," he said. "Come in to get a feel for what we really are. It's comfortable and down home with a small-town feel. We are different, and we want to be different. We don't want to fall into class with other dealers."

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