For more than eight decades, the Palmen name and automobiles have been synonymous in Kenosha.
On Wednesday, the venerable dealership reached another milestone in its history, honored for selling Chryslers in the Kenosha area for 50 consecutive years.
Executives from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles stopped by Palmen’s 75th Street dealership to deliver a plaque commemorating the golden anniversary. FCA, based in London, is Chrysler’s corporate parent.
For Andy Palmen, a third-generation family member leading the operation, the milestone is a moment to pause and bask in the dealership’s deep history, while simultaneously looking to the future.
“We need to celebrate these kinds of things,” said Palmen, who is celebrating 30 years at the helm of the dealership.
It all started in 1936 when Palmen’s grandfather, Howard Palmen, established a gas station and auto repair facility — initially near the modern-day Reuther High School, and later at a site on Roosevelt Road.
“My grandfather was considered an innovator, and my father was more of a pioneer,” Palmen said.
Along the way, auto sales became a part of the operation — initially with a few vehicles, and, over time, growing to the full-fledged operation Palmen is today. In addition to Chrysler and Fiat, Palmen Motors sells Dodge, Jeep and Ram.
Chrysler became a part of the Palmen name in 1969 — a year before Howard died and the business was passed on to Palmen’s dad, Ron, and uncle, Roger.
The second-generation siblings ran the business for two decades before Andy took the helm.
As he reflected on the dealership’s history Wednesday, Palmen rattled off a number of economic factors that could have toppled the family business, going as far back to World War II and including to the economic downturn of a decade ago.
“I think the car business is exciting,” Palmen said. “There’s always new models. It keeps it interesting. But there are definitely ups and downs in the market.”
Palmen, whose dealership employs nearly 300, attributes its longevity to a steady, but progressive approach that remembers the dealership’s roots, yet keeps an eye toward the future, Palmen said.
“Great employees and loyal customers have kept us running,” Palmen said. “We wouldn’t be who we are without repeat customers. We’ve been able to support the community that supports us.”