Muskego - Salentine Buick, 14444 W. Janesville Road, believed to be the oldest business in Muskego until it closed last week, will be missed as much for its philantrophic efforts as for its car lot, local officials said.
The family-owned auto dealership, which opened in 1923, had a hand in community programs and promotions, including those involving the most basic needs within the city.
"E.J. Salentine has been a staple in our community," said Muskego Mayor Kathy Chiaverotti. "They have been very philanthropic to community organizations and individuals in need."
Salentine contributed to youth groups, to Christmas in the Country and to drives to help local families in need, Chiaverotti said.
"They always helped any local group in need and fundraisers for people facing health issues," she said. "They're good people."
Salentine Buick was the first business to make room for the Muskego food pantry to operate under its roof. In fact, there wouldn't be a Muskego food pantry without Salentine Buick, said Julie Frahmann, food pantry founder and director.
"They were the only place that stepped up and housed us when we were starting," Frahmann said.
Salentine always supported chamber events at the top sponsorship level, said Tina Weiss, executive director of the Muskego Area Chamber of Commerce. The chamber's to Christmas in the Country citywide event benefited particularly from Salentine's support and input.
"It helped make it the family event it is now," Weiss said.
"Losing them will be a hardship on us and we will miss them very much," said Weiss, noting Salentine Buick would have been 90 years old this year, four years older than Horn Brothers, the city's original general store that opened in 1927. "They have always been a huge supporter of the community."
Helping in other ways
Salentine's support for community events was more than monetary.
"They have always been there when we needed volunteers for anything," Weiss said.
When Julie Azmani was just starting her business, Glo 10 spa and salon at W13646 Janesville Road at Lincoln Point, she found invaluable help and advice from Sorensen.
"I met Sue three years ago and from the time I met her, I could call up and ask advice and what she thought I should do," Azmani said.
The family has run a successful business for three generations. They know how to do things and have the contacts to get things done, Azmaini said.
"They've been around forever and they're willing to share what they know," she said. "It's a great loss."
Facing an end
The dealership took a huge financial hit in 2009, when General Motors dropped it as a dealership following GM's financial rescue by the federal government.
A massive groundswell of support engulfed GM causing it to reinstate Salentine in July 2010. In the meantime, the dealership was surviving on used car sales and car repairs.
The transition to something less than a business mainstay and community contributor hasn't been easy on the family.
Sue Sorensen, general manager and one of the owners of the three-generation family-owned business, was heartbroken last year when she told the chamber that the dealership could not support Country Christmas as much as it wanted to.
Last week was really rough, Sorensen said Friday. The family has been sorting through 90 years of documents. Trucks came Friday to get the remaining cars on the lot.
General Motors' decision to stop making Pontiacs really sealed the fate of the dealership, which had sold Pontiacs as well as Buicks, Sorensen said.
"As a single-line Buick dealer, we couldn't make it," she said.
The dealership couldn't expand to other models because it was too close to a GM dealer on Highway 100 and too close to a Chevrolet dealer, she said. And automakers such as Toyota would have required a whole new building, she added.
"But we had the best customers and the best employees," Sorensen said, noting the average length of service for the 35 employees, nearly all full-time, was 30 years.
One of the dealership's longtime customers and friend, Werner Bierbach, had a sign made thanking the community on behalf of the family for 90 years. The family treasures that gift, she said.
The city would like to do what it can to help, said Chiaverotti, who has offered to meet with the family.
A LITTLE HISTORY
Since it opened in 1923, the dealership and the family that has owned it have been woven into the fabric of the community.
Founder S.J. Salentine was the first fire chief of Tess Corners. His son, E.J. Salentine also was the Tess Corners chief. Scott Salentine, E.J.'s son, is currently a captain in the department.
S.J. Salentine donated a Buick chassis that the Fire Department turned into a fire truck.
The original dealership was across Tess Corners Drive from the current location. The first year it opened, customers bought Buicks that had spoke wheels, running boards and a spare tires in to the trunk.
The family opened its current location in the 1970s. A $4 million renovation took place in 2000.
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