Swanson’s Tire Closes After 106 Years
Mike Crouse was a high school student when he started working at Swanson’s Tire Co. LLC in Oklahoma City, Okla. “I was just a flunky back in ’86 when I started sweeping the floors.”
But he never went anywhere else. And in 2002 when Mary Helen Swanson, the last member of the Swanson family, got out of the business, she sold it to long-time employee Crouse. At the time, the shop’s Midtown neighborhood was in steep decline. Other businesses had failed and were failing. Buildings were boarded up.
But Midtown is in the midst of a big revitalization. And over the past five years Crouse has turned down offers of more than $1 million from developers to buy his 30,000-square-foot building and the land, a little less than an acre, at the corner of Hudson and NW 9th.
“At some point you just had to say yes when they kept waving that kind of money at you,” Crouse says. He sold the property for $2.25 million.
“All of a sudden there’s a lot of development around here. People are moving back into the center of the city. Property values went sky high,” Crouse says. “As time went by what’s available around us has been gobbled up. We were pretty much the last sizeable chunk of land that could be acquired.”
A group of local investors plans to renovate the tire shop into a mixed use development of offices and retail space. “They do not intend to bulldoze the old building even though the older parts are 80 to 90 years old, and the younger parts are 70 years old,” Crouse says.
Oscar Frederickson founded what was then Frederickson Tire Co. in 1909. He married into the Swanson family, and over the years the business morphed into a Swanson family operation.
The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City’s daily newspaper, reported the property sale news earlier this month. Swanson’s announced its last day of business would be Oct. 16. Crouse says customers weren’t shocked — they’ve seen the neighborhood change. Still, many are sad to see it go.
The tire dealership, which Crouse says was verified as the oldest independent tire dealership in Oklahoma, offered both consumer tires and commercial tires for fleets operating vehicles up to a ton. Several competing heating and air conditioning businesses in Oklahoma City relied on Swanson’s to keep their trucks running, Crouse says. Business was split 50-50 between tire sales and auto repair. Average gross sales were steady around $1.5-1.6 million.
“Swanson’s has always been a horse of a different color,” Crouse says, noting Oklahoma City is a geographically large city, and customers have gone out of their way to patronize the business. “Swanson’s has always been a destination. They don’t come to us because we’re convenient. They come because they trust us. Business is consistent. Ups and downs are not really a part of business for us.”
That may explain the comments surfacing on the tire shop’s Facebook page. Customers are pleading with Crouse to keep the page open so they know where he lands next. At age 45, he’s not really ready to retire.
“I’d like to think I’m retiring. I don’t know anything else. That’s all I’m truly qualified to do,” Crouse says. “But I don’t think I’ll return to this business as an owner anymore. I’ll probably line up with another shop.
“The reality is this field of car repairs, the available talent pool is shrinking. It’s not a glamorous business. It’s hot in the summer, cold in the winter. People aren’t lining up to be mechanics. When somebody’s offering you the chance to ride off into the sunset — I think I will.”
But he’s not going anywhere just yet. Even though the business closed last week, Crouse still has work to do. On Monday he and his technicians completed another full day’s work. He admits he has trouble telling customers no. Near the end of the business day Monday, his staff helped a woman secure a broken window in her vehicle. The regulator broke and was stuck. He told her to come back on Wednesday and they’d replace the regulator.
“I’ve known the woman since before I had kids,” Crouse says. “I’m not going to tell her no.”
There is a final deadline looming though. The property already is owned by the new developers. Crouse surrenders the keys on Nov. 10.