Diana T. Kurylko Automotive News June 29, 2009 - 12:01 am ET With so many dealerships closing, Mini USA says it has become a lot easier to find prime sites for new stores. Many of the hand-raisers recently awarded one of 17 new Mini franchises are able to become dealers because an ideal location had opened up, said Jim McDowell, Mini USA president. "A lot of people want to be a Mini dealer, and the challenge has been finding the best location," he said. "We are now getting really good locations, better than a year ago, which is why we are accepting these new dealers." McDowell said the "poster child" for benefiting from another dealer's troubles is the store being constructed in Seattle. It's a downtown location that previously housed a Chevrolet dealership "close to a university." That was good because Mini appeals to younger buyers, McDowell said. Last week Mini announced it is adding 17 stores, most of them in new markets. Mini currently has 83 dealerships. New stores will be in Alexandria, Va.; Allentown, Pa.; Austin, Texas; Birmingham, Ala.; El Paso, Texas; Fort My-ers, Fla.; Knoxville, Tenn.; Louis-ville, Ky.; Loveland, Colo.; Madison, Wis.; Mount Laurel, N.J.; Ontario, Calif.; Pensacola, Fla.; Raleigh, N.C.; San Diego; Seattle; and Tempe, Ariz. McDowell said Mini will need the new stores when sales bounce back. Mini, which last year sold 54,077 vehicles in the United States, next year will add a small crossover based on the Crossman concept car. There also is speculation that a roadster concept will debut in September at the Frankfurt auto show. Sales were down 21 percent in the first five months compared with 2008. McDowell won't forecast 2009 sales but noted that every month has been better than the month before. All but one of the brand's current and new dealers are already a Mini or BMW dealer. When the brand identifies a market it wants to enter, McDowell said, the nearest BMW or Mini dealer is asked to submit an application. He said more than half of the current dealerships are being renovated or moving to a new location. "Many times they are moving to new buildings that were previously other franchises," he said. For instance, Flow Mini in Winston-Salem, N.C., recently bought and revamped a Saturn store. The Saturn dealership had to undergo extensive modification to comply with Mini's standards. Meanwhile, Mini finished last in J.D. Power and Associates' ranking of initial quality, announced last week. The annual study tracks the number of complaints reported by consumers during their first 90 days of ownership. According to Mini spokeswoman Nathalie Bauters, in the early days of ownership, "Mini customers complain about features they can't figure out or don't like." She added: "Like any new love in someone's life, it takes time and practice to get to know its different characteristics and eccentricities."