updated 5/15/2009 5:32:28 PM ET 2009-05-15T21:32:28

Jim Dimopoulos can't remember every organization his car dealership helped out in its 36 years of operation: police and fire associations, cheerleaders, baseball teams, even high school yearbook classes in his town.

But now those donations are finished, just like his business.

Seacoast Motors of Salisbury, a small coastal town, closed Thursday after getting word that it was one of the 789 dealerships Chrysler was dropping within weeks as part of its restructuring.

"We did the best we could," Dimopoulos said of donating to local charities. "They are going to have a tough time, a lot of places."

When Chrysler LLC, based in Auburn Hills, Mich., and the General Motors Corp., based in Detroit, close nearly 2,000 dealerships across the country by late next year, many communities will lose key sources of charitable funding — the businesses that helped sponsor everything from Little League to libraries, rodeos to road races. In return for their donations, car dealers got their names printed on jerseys, programs and signs, and customers were often happy to repay that generosity when it came time to buy new vehicles.

"You try to stay involved and support the community and keep your name out there also," said Charles "Buddy" Merrill IV, owner of Keystone Dodge, in Allentown, Pa., which was on Chrysler's cut list.

Merrill said he sponsors children's baseball, softball and peewee football teams and charity golf outings. And while he retains Kia and Isuzu truck franchises as well as used cars, he said he would probably have to reduce his charity work.

"Before I could spread the expense among three different franchises, so I'm sure I'll tighten the belt a little bit," he said.

Charities across the country were bracing for reduced help not just from the dealerships but also from their laid-off employees.

Robbie Baxley, a board member of the Lions Club, an international service organization in Mullins, S.C., said he expected some of the club's members to move away after losing their jobs at the local Chrysler dealership.

"We lose all the way around with that deal," Baxley said. "No doubt about it. It hurts when you lose someone that's been around as long as they have."

Smaller towns could expecially feel the pinch, because there are few other businesses to turn to for donations.

The Eastern Oregon farming community of Hermiston may have to find someone else to sponsor its local pro rodeo because Dodge dealer Larry Campbell is on Chrysler's list for closure, Mayor Bob Severson said.

Video: Chrysler president: 'Too many dealers'

Douglas Graft, one of the owners of Graft Chrysler Dodge-Jeep in Scottdale, Pa., said his company had already reduced its charitable activities because of the recession and poor sales.

"We cut a lot of things out this year because of the economy," he said. "Spring and summer stuff, we just couldn't do it with the automobile market. We do the YMCA every year, but they have other sponsors. We do a community car show, and they'll just have to find another company."

But it's not just the local charities that will be hurt, said Ray Ciccolo, who represents Massachusetts' car dealers on the National Automobile Dealers Association's board of directors. The association's members give money each year to be distributed by the national and state organizations, such as the several million dollars donated to the employees of dealerships affected by Hurricane Katrina.

"When you have a shrinking dealer body," Ciccolo said, "that's much less we'll contribute to our local charitable foundation and our national charitable foundation."

Some dealerships, though, have vowed to do everything they can to keep helping their communities.

"I think the first thing we cut is the more expensive advertising," Ciccolo said. "This type of one-on-one, very personal, where you look someone in the eye and cut them a check, that would probably be the last thing we want to give up."

Ed Schartman's Dodge dealership in suburban Cleveland gives a scholarship to a high school graduate in North Olmsted every year and provides cars for community parades. He vowed that wouldn't change even if it lost the Chrysler franchise.

"Do we intend to stay part of this community?" he asked. "Absolutely."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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