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Posted on Fri, Sep 11, 2009 : 12:50 p.m.

Chelsea's Palmer Ford dealership to shut down, owner confirms

By Nathan Bomey

Editor's note: This story was updated at 12:05 p.m. and again at 12:37 p.m.

Chelsea's 95-year-old Palmer Ford dealership will shut down, its owner confirmed this morning.

Biff Weber, third-generation owner of the downtown Chelsea dealership, said the move is his decision. He's meeting with Ford corporate officials this afternoon in Dearborn to determine the timing and additional details on the wind-down.

Weber suggested economic conditions forced his hand.

"It's a voluntary thing on my part, so it's not like Ford's coming in and closing the business," Weber told "Does anybody need to look at the balance sheet for the state of Michigan right now?"

The company's decision to close marks the first time in 2009 that the Ann Arbor region has lost an auto dealership.

Palmer Ford, officially Palmer Motor Sales Inc., employs about 25 workers. Weber said he was making an effort to secure positions for his employees at other businesses.

Ann Feeney, Chelsea's mayor, said the loss of the dealership is a painful blow for the city.

"It's shocking. From a historic perspective it’s very sad," she said. "And from a strictly business perspective, there’s a lot of people that buy cars from there, and they service them there - which means they come to town and, while waiting for their cars to get done, they shop."

The decision comes after Chelsea Update reported this week that Palmer Ford's new-car inventory had evaporated. 

Chelsea Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bob Pierce was not available for comment this morning. 

Feeney suggested the vacant property on Main Street in Chelsea could offer redevelopment opportunities.

"They're going to leave a big vacancy," she said. "If it can’t be a dealership, it would be nice to have a lovely, beautiful parking lot with some adjacent offices. That as a parking lot would solve a lot of problems downtown."

Feeney emphasized that the "tremendous support the Palmer family" provided to the Chelsea community would be missed.

"I don’t think you can even measure it," she said.

Palmer Ford's decision comes during a roller-coaster ride for the dealership industry, which celebrated the sales successes of the federal government's Cash For Clunkers program even as automakers are cutting more than 2,000 dealerships.

Ford has been pursuing "surgical trimming" of its 3,770-store dealership footprint throughout the country, according to Ward's Auto. Ford officials have said that they weren't conducting a massive reduction in dealerships.

That compares to the major reduction in dealerships at General Motors and Chrysler, which collectively are eliminating nearly 2,000 dealerships throughout the U.S.

Contact's Nathan Bomey at or (734) 623-2587 or follow him on Twitter.


Ana Hotaling

Sun, Sep 13, 2009 : 8:43 a.m.

A parking lot? Chelsea doesn't need a parking lot. It has lots of widespread and FREE parking. What Chelsea needs is more variety in its retail and restaurant offerings. More recreational offerings would be great -- a mini-golf or a movie theater would be nice, as would more ethnic cuisine (Italian, Thai, Japanese come to mind). But parking?


Sat, Sep 12, 2009 : 1:58 p.m.

As dealerships came and went, we used to have two solid rocks and original franchises in Washtenaw County: Palmer Ford and Ann Arbor Buick. The late Walt Prochnow had no choice but to succumb to corporate pressure a few years back, and, thus, Ann Arbor Buick faded into the sunset. If (20 years ago) George Palmer had told me his store would be closing in twenty years, we both would have had a hearty chuckle over that. How times change. Chelsea and western Washtenaw County will miss Palmer Ford. It's been a stable force for 97 years. But, let's not be too somber. Washtenaw County still has an original Hudson franchise. Keep up the good work, Jack!! (At least the factory can't put any pressure on you!)


Fri, Sep 11, 2009 : 6:01 p.m.

I don't know why news like this is the tenth story down on the news section of this site. It seems to me a pretty big deal. Maybe it would have made the "Front Page" if we still had paper.


Fri, Sep 11, 2009 : 3:11 p.m.

This is a sad day for our community. This "was" the oldest Ford dealership in Michigan and yes, Mr. Ford used to frequent Chelsea a lot back in the old days. Thank you to the Palmer family for their great and generous support in Chelsea and the decades of true quality service. Good luck to all of the employees, Biff and Suzie!

theological entrepreneur

Fri, Sep 11, 2009 : 2:59 p.m.

A few years ago, the Ann Arbor News (as I recall) did a very nice presentation of the history of Palmer Ford. I believe that the original owner knew Henry Ford. I would like to see more historical context for an article like this, when we have the unusual fact of a 95 year old business. What anecdotes must exist. Maybe something for the Ann Arbor Observer to do.

Sally Pobojewski

Fri, Sep 11, 2009 : 1:23 p.m.

I checked with Palmer Ford and the story is true. I've purchased several cars from Palmer Ford and their service, reputation and quality is outstanding. If Ford is shutting down their best dealers, the company must be in serious economic trouble. Complaining on this site won't help. I suggest sending an e-mail to Ford's CEO, Alan Mulallay at Or contact one of Ford's public affairs reps, Kimberly Harry, at Sally Pobojewski


Fri, Sep 11, 2009 : 1:21 p.m.

How's that HOPE & CHANGE working out for everyone? LOL

Patrick Haggood

Fri, Sep 11, 2009 : 12:45 p.m.

Paired with another article today about the Georgetown Kroger shutdown and reader comments about the great service there makes me wonder; is great service now unprofitable? I shudder at the thought.

Top Cat

Fri, Sep 11, 2009 : 12:44 p.m.

Biff is doing this voluntarily? If you believe that, then I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.


Fri, Sep 11, 2009 : 12:41 p.m.

Nathan, in response to your question, I hope the leadership of Chelsea can come up with a better option for the property than Ann Feeney's suggestion it be used as a parking lot and that the decision helps to enhance Chelsea's walkable, sustainable small town qualities.


Fri, Sep 11, 2009 : 12:14 p.m.

This dealership is top notch. The friendliest, honest and smartest people to work with. They will sadly be missed.

Nathan Bomey

Fri, Sep 11, 2009 : 11:41 a.m.

I wanted to note that I've updated this story a few times to reflect Weber's comments and thoughts from Mayor Feeney. How do you think this will impact downtown Chelsea?


Fri, Sep 11, 2009 : 11:24 a.m.

Did you folks read the story? Biff is doing this voluntarily: '"It's a voluntary thing on my part, so it's not like Ford's coming in and closing the business," Weber told'


Fri, Sep 11, 2009 : 10:56 a.m.

Ford should realize that Palmer Ford is one of their best dealerships. I have purchased many cars and have had them serviced at Palmer. They have the best service in the area. Plus their sales people especially Neal Horing were superb!. You know you had the best and most honest deal when working with him. Sadly if Ford closes Palmer Ford they may have lost my interest in buying anymore of their vehicles. Other Ford dealerships in the area do not match what Palmer trust.

Top Cat

Fri, Sep 11, 2009 : 10:44 a.m.

I called them. Looks like Ford has pulled the plug on them and that they are closing the doors this month.

Top Cat

Fri, Sep 11, 2009 : 10:14 a.m.

I have purchased 7 vehicles from these people over 20 years. They are a pleasure to deal with and their service is second to none. I truly hope that they can continue in business.