John Barone is the man behind John L. Smith, the local used car lot that evolved into a multifaceted business entity
So why does a guy named John Barone own a place called John L. Smith Used Cars? I opened the business with a gentleman by the name of John L. Smith. I worked with John in 1980 at a dealership in Wynnewood, and in 1984 he decided to open a used car lot in West Chester. I went with him. A lot has changed since then, but the name is the same.
Are you from West Chester originally? No, I’m from Havertown. But I’ve lived here now for 32 of the 34 years I’ve had the business, along with my wife, three kids, and my yellow lab, Bauer.
That’s a long time to be in business. Well, the thought was, “Hey, let’s open up a lot,” so we did—where the Subway is now. In 1995, we built the first phase of our dealership in our current location across the street. It was basically a garage to serve the customers we’d been selling to. Then we expanded that eight years later into a 10-bay service center and a two-story sales office. After we opened up the service center, we opened Affordable Rental of West Chester, which is housed at the sales office.
A car rental business, I’m assuming? Yes, for rentals to our customers for as little as $25 a day, so they’re not inconvenienced while their car is being serviced— or to any of our customers who may have been in an accident or have another need.
It sounds like you’ve got every angle covered. Well, then in 2014, I opened up a Farmers Insurance agency here. This helps customers without insurance, plus we can increase coverage and help customers save money. So now, we sell cars, we service cars, we rent cars, we detail cars, AND we provide auto, home, life and business insurance to our clientele.
Can you, personally, cover all these bases? I’ve been in this business a long time. I can do everything but fix your car, but our mechanics are ASE master technicians.
What’s your schedule like? Well, our hours are 8am-7pm, Monday through Thursday, Friday until 6. Let’s just say I put in a lot of hours. Oh, and we’re closed on Saturdays in the summer. That might sound crazy, but for me, it’s a quality-of-life issue for my employees.
What kind of car do you drive? I drive a different car every day. I have to make sure all of our cars are ready to rock and roll.
It sounds like you are here to stay. This business has evolved from a little lot to the oldest and largest used car dealership in West Chester. We typically have 75-85 cars in our inventory, selling for between $5,000 and $15,000. We’re invested in this community. Every year Rustin opened, we’ve given away a $5,000 voucher at their after-prom towards the purchase of a vehicle. We love West Chester, and plan to be here for a long time.
Do you have a favorite kind of car? Not really. A car that has gas in it and gets me from Point A to Point B is my favorite.
Photo: Andrew Hutchins
Interview: Kate Chadwick