Wisconsin tire dealer closes after 89 years

March 3, 2015

After 89 years in business, Holmes Tire & Automotive Inc. has changed its last tire. The third-generation independent tire dealer closed its store Feb. 27, 2015, in Madison, Wis.

Like so many dealers, Tom and Linda Holmes were facing a future without a younger generation to take their place. Both of their children are grown, have families of their own, and are living in South Dakota. Neither have any interest in taking over the business their great-grandfather started in 1926. The Holmeses spend a lot of time traveling from Wisconsin to South Dakota to visit their children and grandchildren. It’s at least a 12-hour drive.

“We’re not getting any younger and we wanted to retire when we were still young enough to enjoy it,” says Linda Holmes. She and her husband are both 60.

Still, after the economy took a nosedive in 2008 business never fully recovered, she says.

“Our retail was still really great, but when everything downturned, a plumber, electrician, drywaller that had five vans went down to two or sometimes one. That decreases your business pretty good,” Holmes says. “We’ve been here so long we had a lot of those nice loyal guys. They had to make decisions. It all trickles down.”

The couple decided to close. Then they looked at the calendar. They took over the dealership from Tom’s father on March 1, 1990. Closing a couple days shy of 25 years made sense.

A month ago the Holmeses told their employees of their decision. They all found new jobs, and as of the last day five were still reporting for duty. A couple are remaining at the 8-bay shop to help close the books and sell off the equipment and supplies. They have a tentative agreement to sell the property, but the deal hasn’t closed yet.

“All last week was pretty hectic, people wanting first dibs,” she says. As she talks on the phone others are showing up to purchase items. She’s not sure exactly how long it will take to finish up the last details, and admits she’s not sure what it will be like the first morning she and Tom wake up and don’t have to head to the store.

In the meantime, she has another pressing problem.

“Now the weird thing is I have to figure out where to take my car.”

Some “really smart shop owners” have contacted her to offer her that service. She knows they really want her customers to follow her. Holmes says she’s likely picked out where she’ll go for her next oil change.

“Luckily all of our cars have new tires, winters and all-seasons,” she says, noting they can delay that decision for a while. “At least we’ll know what to buy.”