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E.T. Paul Co. closing tire shop after 119 years

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After 119 years in business, the bays inside E.T. Paul Co. are full. The eight employees are hard at work, and yet, the clock is ticking. One of America’s oldest independent tire dealers will close on Dec. 31, 2014.

The state of Ohio has exercised its power of eminent domain to take the property the Paul family 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’s tapered off. Twelve years ago one in every dozen customers mentioned the roadwork and inquired what it might mean for E.T. Paul Co. Earlier this year 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 to me 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’s been able to satisfy his top concerns as the business closes. Thanks to a partnership with another independent tire dealer about a mile away, all 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 that 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 just 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 be facing 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 is 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, the company transitioned to tires. Relics of the original business, including horseshoes and a certificate proclaiming the business a “practical horseshoer” still hang on the wall.

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