As the date for the threatened shutdown at Gee West Seattle approaches, we just heard again from the Huling family. Sharon Huling is the wife of Steve Huling, who ran the business before the sale to Gee. She e-mailed WSB to say, “Below is a statement that I would like to make on behalf of our family to the community. … It would be greatly appreciated if you would post it as there has been additional press about the Gee’s accusations printed today in the West Seattle Herald.” (The Herald article she refers to is here; the Times article mentioned below is here.) Her statement, unedited:
To our fellow community members,
It is upsetting to see our family’s reputation attacked in the newspapers. But I remain confident that the truth will come out – it always does – and thus our reputation will be restored. The Seattle Times article was pretty brutal to us, 19 quotes from the Gees, 5 or 6 from Steve, and select few facts. If you do the math, that’s about a 3:1 ratio (Gees:Hulings). There are also several statements in the West Seattle that warrant correcting if only in the pursuit of honesty and neighborly obligation:
First; the Gees made a promise to us not to disclose the sale price of the dealership, which they have now done (though inaccurately) and in the paper. By doing so they have broken their promise.
Second; last winter our family did not give $100,000 to the victim. What happened is this; Steve, on behalf of Huling Bros. and immediately upon learning about the questionable sale of the truck to the victim, unwound the truck sale and refunded the money to the customer. This occurred over a year ago at the time of sale. Then in January, immediately upon learning from the police that 3 former employees would be charged with a crime, our family chose to act with integrity and make restitution to the gentleman for the $70,000 our employees were accused of stealing though we were not obligated to do this. But to be perfectly clear, Huling Bros. and Steve were never accused of doing anything wrong.
Third; my husband did call Ryan Gee and Cline Davis immediately (I was present) upon learning from the police that former employees would be charged with a crime and it is they who chose not to return his phone calls thus missing out on the opportunity to secure some goodwill and stand with our family together against injustice.
Ryan Gee appears to being trying to fix the blame on my husband Steve and try him in the media. The Gees have clearly stated that they have a self-serving motive; suing us. It is very sad to read because of the vehemence of their attack and its inaccuracies. Just because Mr. Gee says something doesn’t make it so. In our great country we still honor the belief that people are innocent until proven guilty. My husband is an honorable man and I encourage the media to investigate the accuracy of Ryan’s statements, their reputation and track record in business east of the mountains and especially here with the people who worked for both of us. There you will find a story of the true tragedy; the people who will soon find themselves without a job.
Fourth; I am confused about Ryan Gee saying that their partnership “ran out of money” in his press release because one of their business partners – Wolff family members (Wolff Enterprises, LLC associated with Wolff Cos, etc.) from Spokane and Arizona – are worth hundreds of millions, possibly even a billion dollars. The Wolff”s are huge developers on a national level. One can only speculate that as such they could have made other choices like staying open until they are able to sell the dealerships thus not leaving 160 employees out on the street to fend for themselves. Our hearts go out to them and their families. Again, that is the real tragedy of this story. Still I am glad to see that our old Puget Sound competitors have been calling and making offers to many of our former employees whom they obviously value.
Fifth; I think that it is disingenuous to think that you can sell 3 dealerships in 2 weeks time, especially in this down market, this is the intent the Gees expressed to their employees last week when they announced their immediate plans to sell or close the business by Oct. 7th. It took us over a year to select a broker and find a buyer.
Sixth; besides breaking their promise of confidentiality, the Gees, as my husband stated in the WSH, broke other promises like changing the closing date for the sale at the last minute, more than once, and now they have broken their lease agreement. There have been other broken promises like saying they would meet to discuss differences, then not showing up or canceling at the last minute. Ryan has stated that they chose not to use the Huling name when in reality they did not buy the rights to use the Huling Bros. name, we purchased our name back during negotiations. What happened, happened to us, to Huling Bros. – the Gee’s are not us – a message they failed miserably at communicating to the public, a responsibility that lies with them.
Despite all of the negative press initiated by Ryan and his team, our family is doing well. There is nothing that I have written here that isn’t common knowledge, but I would like to add some additional perspective; in June the Gees – through their lawyer – wrote to Steve and his brother Tom saying that if they did not sell to them the properties the dealerships stand on “for less than market value” then they would sue us. My husband still has this letter. Ryan’s recent actions, with his threat to sue us in the Gee’s recent press release, lend credence to this statement.
We are thankful for and we welcome the positive reinforcement from our friends, former employees and former satisfied customers whom we cultivated through our good standing in the Seattle business community for over 60 years. Under Steve’s leadership our dealership sold thousands of cars a year over the course of many years. Huling Bros. consistently earned the highest ratings for customer service in the industry from the manufacturers and the public. Steve was also was awarded the Time Magazine Dealer Quality Award for the state of Washington and belonged to many civic and business organizations. We will continue to support and be active members of the community. We are deeply saddened that 3 men, who only worked for Huling Bros. a few short months, have caused so much heartache, for the victim and for everyone involved. We are people of integrity and we will continue to hold our heads high.
We are e-mailing Gee Automotive with a link to this post and offering them the opportunity to publish an unedited statement here too, if they so choose. Meantime, the clock ticks to this Sunday, when we will see if one of West Seattle’s biggest businesses does indeed close, costing more than 100 people their jobs.