Long-time car salesman returns to Anacostia; Astro Motors re-opens
“I’m not a Ford man, but I’ll sure sell ‘em,” said Dale Richardson, owner of the recently re-opened Astro Motors at 2226 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE. With a hunter green model 1996 Corvette Coupe on his desk, Richardson confirms he’s a Chevy man. “That’s what I was raised up on. My dad had Chevys.”
Standing outside his small hut of an office, motorists passing up and down Maple View Place frequently wave their hands. Back in business, back in his element, any speculation on the death of Astro Motors has been greatly exaggerated; Richardson is back in Historic Anacostia.
A native of Smithfield, North Carolina, Richardson came to Anacostia when he was 21, an apprentice to his older brother, Gerald. “He was right out of the country and made it up here,” remembers Richardson, one of thousands of expatriated North Carolinians in the city. “Everything I learned in the business I learned from him.” In May of 1988, Gerald passed away in a car accident in his native state.
“When a person can’t afford to go through a new dealer, because their credit is as bad as all-out doors, they come see me,” Richard said understating his unique role in the community’s working class economy. With cars selling from $500 to $5000, Richardson requires a down payment of half the amount and then finances in-house. Avoiding auctions or personal sales, Richardson’s acquisitions are primarily from trade-ins at regionally known dealerships such as Rosenthal Chevrolet or Koons Fords. He estimates he sells about 300 cars a year.
“He’s a born negotiator,” divulges Cynthia Speed. “Some people have that skill to sell, Bubba’s got that.” To Speed and others that know Richardson, he’s affectionately called “Bubba” due to his country roots. Over their years of friendship, Speed, who knew Richardson’s late brother, says she’s bought no less than five cars from him. “They were good cars. They ran just fine till I dogged ‘em out.”
Fenty Crackdown on Used Car Dealers
For years, Astro Motors operated at 2001 MLK until the Fenty administration’s crackdown on used car lots had ricocheting restrictive consequences for shops like Richardson’s.
“They said the dealers were eyesores,” Richardson said while confirming the real intent was directed at unscrupulous dealerships. “But in the process they made it so you can only have 4 cars in the front of your lot.” No matter the size of your space, unless there is a garage or warehouse on-site, DCRA strictly enforces the 4 car rule. (A recent ride up Georgia Avenue NW revealed this rule tightly followed by most dealers.)
Fenty’s well-intentioned, but some say overzealous, assault on used car lots included raising bond regulations. In a DCRA press release they admitted new regulations “may be making it impossible for many legitimate dealers to obtain the licenses they need to continue operating their used car lots.” The bond requirement was lowered to $25,000, in addition to the $25,000 bond required for a dealer license.
2226 MLK’s Used Car Historicity
According to conversations on the street and old City Directories, the lot at 2226 MLK has long supported car dealerships. Classified sections from mid-1950’s newspapers advertise a ’51 Mercury, ’51 Studebaker, ’53 Pontiac Chieftan De Luxe among others for sale at Colonial Oldsmobile Co., “open till 9” at 2226 Nichols Ave. SE.”
In the early 1970s, Alco Auto Sales was here; from the mid 1970s to early 1990s it was Columbia Motor Sales, followed by B&L Auto Sales in the late 1990s. An association with this lot and used car dealerships precedes an Anacostia that is near monolithically black. When Anacostia was majority white, this lot was a used car dealership.
Newcomers to old city neighborhoods tend to make value judgments about what businesses belong and do not, based on their own values, often adversarial to history. Richardson and Astro Motors have been integral parts of the community for the past three decades. With Anacostia seeking new development and investment, Astro Motors will continue to build anew on its decades of goodwill.
*Print version to be published in September East of the River. *