E.T. Paul Co. closes after 119 years
After 119 years in business, the second-oldest independent tire dealer in America closed its doors on the last day of 2014.
The state of Ohio has exercised its power of eminent domain to take the property the E.T. Paul Co. has owned for more than a century and use it to expand Interstate 71. Mike Paul, the fourth-generation owner of this tire shop near downtown Columbus, Ohio, has had 12 years to worry about it. But because the road project was delayed over and over again, business continued.
“For 12 years we’ve been in a Catch-22,” says Paul, 64. “For probably six of those years (the state) led me to believe they were going to take us that year. It puts you in an awfully crummy spot.
“It has adversely affected our business. Do you spend money on capital improvements? Do you hire somebody?”
Then, two months ago, appraisers showed up. It was a sign the state officially had determined the business was in the right of way.
“Once the appraisers come in, it’s just a matter of time,” Paul says.
Before plans to expand the interstate were announced, Paul says business was growing by 10% each year. But it tapered off. Twelve years ago one in every dozen customers mentioned the roadwork and inquired what it might mean for E.T. Paul Co. By 2014, four in 12 customers were asking the question.
“Lots of customers were incredibly loyal to us,” Paul says. “For them to continue to come here knowing that we may or may not be here is a real testimonial to the company, and especially to Mike (Cremeans) the general manager who’s done just a terrific job.”
The one good thing, Paul says, is he was able to satisfy his top concerns before the business closed.
Thanks to a partnership with another independent tire dealer about a mile away, all eight E.T. Paul Co. employees have a job. Grismer Tire and Auto Service also will honor every tire, parts and service warranty.
Paul sent letters to customers and vendors on Dec. 16 announcing the business would close at the end of the month.
Establishing the relationship with Grismer Tire was key, Paul says. He called them “friendly competitors” that served slightly different customers. While E.T. Paul focused more on high end vehicles, Grismer is more of an all-around tire shop. Still, it seemed like a natural fit he said, especially since Grismer is a family-owned, generational business, too.
Paul and his shop’s manager, Cremeans, have 50 and 52 years, respectively, of experience at E.T. Paul. Both will spend time in the new year at Grismer welcoming customers. In addition, Paul has lots of work to do. Closing the doors to the public was step one. Next he’ll liquidate the assets and then deal with the state to settle the fair market value of the property. After that, he’s going to go to work. E.T. Paul Co. is more than a tire business, and Paul says he’ll work with the investment and real estate portions of the company in the future.
“I’m certainly not going to retire,” he says.
Does he have advice for another tire dealer who might face an eminent domain challenge? “Once they’ve established their right of way, do your best to find another location as soon as you can,” Paul says.
Initially he hoped to follow his own advice, but because his tire business was heavily dependent on two nearby hospitals, his focus was on a small geographic area. One parcel of land became available a few years ago, but the state wasn’t interested in seizing it early. Plus, Paul says his two grown sons aren’t interested in making the tire business their careers; they’re both following in the footsteps of two great-grandfathers who were doctors.
It was Paul’s great-grandfather, E.T. “Eddie” Paul, who founded a blacksmith shop in 1896. As horse-drawn carriages and the need for horseshoes gave way to vehicles, he added a tire shop. Relics of the original business, including horseshoes and a certificate proclaiming the business a “practical horseshoer,” hung on the wall until the last day. ■
Carolyn Cheney lives in the Olde Towne East neighborhood near E.T. Paul Co. She recreated the shop out of LEGOs because “it has such interesting brickwork.” She feels bad about having to omit “Son Co.” from the name on her creation, but noted the current owner, a great-grandson of the founder, is left out of the sign, too.