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ELKHART -- The economic recession turned many recreational vehicle retail stores into vacant lots and left just four dealers in the RV Capital of the World.
On Monday, however, the number of dealerships rose to five as the former Michiana RV on Cassopolis Street reopened as Campers Inn of Elkhart.
"We are looking for this to be one of the top Campers Inn stores," said Scott Hayden, operations manager.
Established in 1966, Campers Inn has dealerships on the East Coast with two in New Hampshire and one each in Massachusetts, Georgia and Florida. Although these stores sell brands from a variety of makers, the Elkhart location will exclusively stock Forest River units, namely the full line of Coachmen products from folding tent campers to motorhomes.
Michiana RV was a factory dealership, owned by Coachmen and selling only Coachmen brands. Despite Campers Inn single-manufacturer inventory, Hayden clarified the dealership is not owned by Forest River.
"We just wanted to have a strong alliance with Forest River," he said. "We like what they're doing."
The empty showroom floor is expected to be filled by next week and parts of the service department are on the way. The dealership already has used units for sale and has hired four former employees of Michiana RV, with plans to hire another six.
Noting the "excellent reputation" Michiana RV carried, Hayden said he wants to return the dealership back to the "gilded lily" it was. As a part of the transition, Campers Inn will be keeping the lofty sign that blinks bright neon at the entrance to the parking lot.
The East Coast dealer made the decision to come to Elkhart and open its first Midwest store about two months ago, Hayden said. The company sees a lot of opportunity in the Northern Indiana and Southern Michigan region.
"I got energized by seeing the new Lowe's, the new Walmart, the new hotels," Hayden said of his trip around the city with a heart. "Granted Elkhart took a hit during the recession but I like what I see here. Elkhart is bouncing back."
Overseeing the Elkhart dealership will be Tom Dewalt of the former Dewalt's RV in Pennsylvania, which was the largest Coachmen dealer in the United States.
"I extremely excited," Dewalt said. "This is my forte. This is where I need to be."