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story.lead_photo.caption Corvettes are seen through a shattered window Monday on the Riley Chevrolet lot. The dealership faced extensive damage following the tornado that tore through Jefferson City on May 22. Photo by Jenna Kieser / News Tribune.
Auto collision technicians Brendon Baker, left, and Vince Drothoff work Monday, June 10, 2019, on repairing a car that was damaged during the May 22 tornado in Jefferson City. The collision center at the Riley Chevrolet dealership reopened on Monday.

Just over two weeks after a tornado destroyed much of the car dealerships on Christy Drive in Jefferson City, the Riley team is doing the body work to bring the business back up to speed.

The Riley Chevrolet and Riley Toyota dealerships both sustained heavy damage from the EF-3 tornado that hit part of Jefferson City on May 22.

While both sales buildings remain closed as cleanup continues, the Riley Chevrolet Collision Center has been back in business since May 31.

"It didn't hardly take a hit, which is just crazy because 30 yards from it I got a roof and a wall ripped off a portion of a building," said owner Kevin Riley.

Most of the work so far has been cleanup, making way for repairs and rebuilding once insurance details have been finalized.

"We have had demolition now on a portion of the Chevrolet store, so I can stand over here on the north side of the Chevrolet store and look through my service center, and I never thought I'd ever be able to see my Toyota store looking right through the building — there's no building there anymore," Riley said. " We are still waiting on the insurance to find out how much of our Chevrolet store is totaled — we feel like 80 percent of it is, and maybe it could be the whole thing.

"I hope it's not because it would take that much longer to rebuild."

That doesn't mean the Riley business isn't doing business, though.

Insurance adjuster Brent Williams, left, and owner of the Chevrolet dealership, Carey Riley, assess damage to the dealership on Monday, June 10, 2019. Clean up has continued at the dealership after it suffered extensive damage from the tornado that blew through Jefferson City on May 22.

"We are selling cars," Riley said Monday, noting they'd just sold one of their few remaining undamaged used vehicles that day.

The sales staff is working from a temporary setup at River Region Credit Union on West Edgewood Drive, where vehicles are being sold and delivered. Customers can set up appointments by calling 573-634-2324 for the Chevrolet Buick GMC Cadillac dealership or 573-893-3100 for the Toyota dealership. Parts also are available by calling staff at those numbers.

"In about two weeks, I'll have a double-wide trailer at the Toyota store to operate sales out of," Riley said, adding the Toyota service department could be up and running within eight weeks.

And, until the Christy Drive locations are back on the road, the whole displaced Riley Chevrolet Buick GMC Cadillac operation — new and used car sales, service and parts — will temporarily relocate to the former car dealership building at 3205 Missouri Blvd. where Riley once operated its Toyota store and which most recently housed a Kia dealership that closed last year.

Riley anticipates those temporary relocations for sales and service will be in place within a couple of months.

"It's a rush, but it's a slow process, unfortunately," he said.

Much of the process has focused on simply cleaning up after the storm.

His 125 or so employees continue to receive paychecks as usual thanks to insurance, and "they want to work for what they earn," Riley said.

Employees were demolishing the remains of a warehouse on the Christy Drive property Monday.

"Now the next thing is we need to refine cleaning the lot — there's glass all over," he said.

And while Riley's insurance company has nearly completed an estimate on the more than 750 vehicles that were totaled across both dealerships, those vehicles have been moved off the main lot.

Replacing that stock of used vehicles will be another bump in the road.

"That's the most difficult part right there — replacing used cars," Riley said. "Obviously we're not trading for them, so we don't have them there to inventory. We are talking to rental car companies, we're buying cars from the public, and we're buying cars at the auction. We know the market; it just takes time."

As he has many times since May 22, Riley again thanked the Jefferson City community for its support.

"The outpouring of help and the prayers just continue to be heartwarming, appreciated," he said.

In turn, he and several members of the Riley team joined Samaritan's Purse volunteers in the week following the tornado to clear debris elsewhere in Mid-Missouri.

"It was just peace of mind, getting out, giving back and not having to worry about the stress for a day or two," Riley said. "It was a good day to be out helping somebody."

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