Riverhead has long been a hub for major automobile dealerships and in the past two decades, its main commercial drag has developed a cluster of modern showrooms and service facilities representing a bevy of manufacturers.
But Riverhead hasn’t had a Chrysler-Jeep dealership since the automaker filed for bankruptcy in 2009 and, following its reorganization, canceled nearly 800 dealership agreements across the country — including the one in Riverhead.
That changed Friday, when Riverhead Dodge became a Chrysler-Jeep franchise.
The new Riverhead Dodge-Ram-Chrylser-Jeep, located for 41 years in a building on West Main Street that dates to the 1930s, will be moving to a brand new facility on Route 58 in 2019, according to Jane Millman. Millman runs the dealership with her father, Riverhead Dodge founder Tony Strollo and her brother TJ Strollo.
“We’re very pleased to be able to bring a Chyrsler-Jeep dealership back to Riverhead,” Millman said in an interview Wednesday. “Local customers had to drive 22 miles to purchase a new Jeep or Chrysler product.”
The former Garsten Motors (now Apple Honda) owned the Chrysler franchise in Riverhead. Garsten sold the Chrysler franchise to Eagle Auto Mall, which also purchased the Jeep franchise from Herb Obser Motors. Eagle owned the Chrysler-Jeep franchise when the automaker filed for bankruptcy and its franchise agreement was among those canceled. After years of litigation between Eagle Auto Mall and Chrysler-successor FCA US, the auto manufacturer this summer won the right to award a new franchise in Riverhead.
The Strollo family is busy designing a new 25,000-square-foot building for its Route 58 site, where it currently operates a truck center.
“It will have state-of-the-art technology for the service facility, a customer waiting area with nice amenities and lot more parking,” Millman said.
The new site, just west of Mill Road, is the former home of Out East Family Fun, a mini-golf and batting cage facility. The Strollos bought the three-acre property for $3.25 million in October 2014. It is twice the size of the company’s West Main Street location, which it has occupied since 1976.
Company founder and family patriarch Tony Strollo, now “81 years young,” is still actively involved in the business, working four or five days a week, his daughter said.
“This is his passion — almost a hobby he loves it so much,” Millman said.
“I get a wealth of knowledge from my father,” she said. “I cherish every day that he’s there with us. Besides being an awesome father, he’s a great businessman.”
Millman has worked in the family business since returning to it in 1995. Her brother TJ has been working there since 1994.
“Small business is what sustains our community. Small business is what sustains our economy,” said Millman, who is a vice chairman of the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association. “We’re proud to be a thriving family-owned business here in Riverhead.”