Packed and ready to leave Fairmont in 1973, Joe Asterino’s fate was determined by a red light and a parking space that was always filled. Now, as the owner of Astro Buick GMC, off Exit 132 on Interstate 79, Asterino never thought he would end up in the car business.
With his son in the backseat, the family was ready to move to Columbus, Ohio. Before the light turned green, Asterino was convinced by his wife to pull into the corner car dealership and ask for a salesman position. On a hunch, Asterino walked inside.
“I went in the show room and there was this 6-foot-6 guy who owned the dealership,” said Asterino, of Arban Tartleton. “I looked up to him and I said, ‘Do you need a salesman here?’ He looked down at me and he said, ‘Yeah, I think we could use a Roman Catholic salesman.’ ”
After he was hired, Tartleton made Asterino a notary and purchased him a suit. A year later, Tartleton died and left his son, James Tartleton, in charge of the dealership. Eight years later, in 1982, the dealership was sold to Asterino.
Because of the new ownership, a new name had to be determined. Asterino is four syllables, which was too long for Joe’s liking. Through a little bit of discussion with a continuous client, Judge Robert Neely, the name Astro was decided upon.
“He said, ‘How about Astra?’ And I said, ‘No, it doesn’t have any pizzazz to it,’ ” Asterino said. “He said, ‘Astro,’ and I said, ‘That’s it.’ ”
Because of the meaning of star behind the name, the dealership was given the image of an astronaut’s helmet. Astro’s salesmen erupted in laughter as Asterino squeezed the helmet over his head.
He is grateful for the people who come in and out of the dealership both daily and annually. Throughout the many years of Astro’s establishment, employees and customers have stayed constant.
“We’ve had a lot of repeat business over the years because of the length of stay of the employees and their experience and their knowledge,” Asterino said. “I’ve just had wonderful people working for me and wonderful people buying from me.”
“The owner and I grew up together. As small boys, we were in the National Guard together. We’ve had a long career together,” said Bill Julian, 65, of Asterino, and their 40 years selling cars together. “As friends, ball players, you name it, we’ve been a good team over the years.”
Furthermore, he is just as important to his clients as they are to him. To say that they are grateful is an understatement. If you buy from Astro’s, you typically become a friend of both the owner and the salesman.
“As soon as you come in, they know your name,” said Vicky Messenger, of Bridgeport. “They help you in any way they can. It’s a great place to buy a car.” She recently purchased a 2014 GMC Canyon truck from Astro.
“I played softball in my 20s with Joe and Bill,” longtime buyer Joe Larry said. “I don’t think I’d be lying if I said I’ve been buying from them for 40 years.”
Larry, of Philippi, is a retired behavioral science professor at Fairmont State University.
Currently, Larry owns two Nissans and one Subaru, all purchased from Astro. Many years ago, Larry’s father used to purchase cars from Astro, as well.
“They’re easy to talk to, they’re friendly,” Larry said. “I don’t have to be nervous about not getting a good deal.”
Larry described times where he felt overly content with the service provided for him. He explained Astro is the type of place to give you a car to run around in while it services your car. “Sometimes when I’m in the area I stop by Astro just to say, ‘Hi.’ ”
Although some employees have since gone or passed, in the past 40 years Asterino has been lucky to work with childhood friends and family including his son-in-law, Keith Powell.
Through the many years Asterino has owned Astro, he has seen many new and used cars come in and out of the lot, as well as people buying and trading within his business. The truck and car selection Buick and GMC offers allows for a thriving business. The dealership typically sells about 400 new and 300 used vehicles each year.
“I love what I do; I love the product that I sell,” Julian said. “I’m very blessed, I have a beautiful wife, four children, two grandchildren, and I’m going to continue to do this as long as my health will allow me.”