Business Notebook: Auto leasing, blooming and second Saturdays

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:57

WARWICK-Frank Petrucci, owner of Warwick’s Country Chevrolet, is happy he didn’t remove his “Leasing” sign and that he still has a few leasing banners stored away. A couple of years ago the financial arms of the major automobile manufacturers including General Motors, Ford and Chrysler as well as banks and other financial institutions ceased funding automobile leases in the State of New York. The problem was a 1924 arcane law that made auto leasing companies as well as the driver liable for the extraordinary damage awards in recent accident cases. The law made sense in the 1920s when many wealthy car owners were driven around by not so wealthy and often uninsured chauffeurs. The owner of the vehicle, the law stated, would be just as liable as the driver regardless of the circumstances of the accident. New York State is the only state in the Union to still have unlimited “vicarious liability”, as the law is known, on the books. Today, leasing has become an alternative form of ownership and financing. But in 2000, two trial lawyers published a manual explaining how a leasing company or a bank, as the titled owner of the vehicle and presumably the defendant with the deepest pockets, could be liable for the actions of thousands of drivers in its New York portfolio. Faced with billions of dollars in liability claims during the period 2000-2003, the leasing companies simply stopped doing business in New York. With the help of the manufacturers, dealers were able to pick up the slack by offering lease look-alike finance/purchase plans with “balloon” payments at the end of the term. Under these programs, the person who picked up the car was the owner as well as the driver. “Our market is a heavy leasing market but these plans were well received,” said Petrucci, “because they still offered the benefit of low monthly payments. However, for tax purposes and other accounting considerations, most businesses still prefer leasing.” A bill to repeal vicarious liability had recently passed in the New York State Senate but the New York Trial Lawyers Association opposed it. Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) blocked it in the Assembly. And like many bills, which do not have the powerful Speaker’s blessing, it was unlikely it would ever come to a vote. However, the maneuver was only a brief victory for Silver since the federal highway bill passed by Congress and signed into law by the President this August included a ban on all vicarious liability laws. Thus, state laws were trumped by federal law and all New York State automobile dealerships including Warwick’s Chrysler, Ford and Chevrolet agencies are now offering new leasing programs. “We’re back in the leasing business,” said Leo Kaytes, CEO of Leo Kaytes Ford, “and we invite everyone to stop in and learn about our exciting new programs.” The substitute purchase plans, which were available at all agencies, are expected to be phased out in favor of attractive nationwide lease plans offered by the manufacturers. Main Street in Bloom Anyone visiting downtown Warwick these days cannot help but be impressed by the attractive door and window displays. You might think each merchant is trying to make his or her door and/or window display for the fall season better than all the others. And you would be right. The Warwick Valley Chamber of Commerce and Warwick in Bloom are sponsoring a contest to decide which business has the best decorations and everyone can be a judge. The contest ends Oct. 31 and you can vote for your favorite display on ballots available at participating merchants. Second Saturdays We remind you that this Saturday, Sept. 8, is the second Saturday of the month. Several months ago, the Warwick Business Alliance (IBA) initiated a program called, “Second Saturdays,” whereby most downtown Warwick retailers remain open until 8 p.m. on the second Saturday of each month. Several businesses have used this program to run special sales or promotions during the extended hours. This Saturday, for example, at Style Counsel, a fashion shop at 19 Main St., Donna Reis and June Keith will offer Tarot card readings. You can shop at the store from 5:30 - 8 p.m. and also find out what the future has in store for you. Think snow Mount Peter Ski Area’s Great American Ski Swap and Sale is scheduled for Oct. 15 - 16. Unlimited season passes at savings are also on sale. More to follow.