PORTLAND, Maine (March 5, 2014) — When Dick Aronson left the U.S. Army in 1961, he thought he would enter law school, but Joseph Silverman, his father-in law, had other ideas.
Mr. Silverman invited his son-in-law instead to come and work for the Silverman family business — Century Tire Co. in Portland.
"He told me — and I can still hear his voice — to 'give it a full year,'" 78-year-old Mr. Aronson told Tire Business. "He said, 'You can't tell if you like the business unless you give it a full year. It'll take you that long to get the hang of it.'"
As it turned out, Mr. Aronson, now 78, did get the hang of it — giving the business 53 years and eventually becoming president of the dealership.
His tenure came to an end with Century Tire itself.
On Feb. 15, the company — originally founded as Deering Tire Co. by Joseph Silverman and his father Hyman — officially closed its doors with Mr. Aronson's retirement, after 88 years in continuous operation.
It was, Mr. Aronson told the Portland Press Herald in a recent interview, the oldest family-owned tire company in New England.
Through the decades, Century Tire became synonymous in Portland with skilled, friendly and courteous service. Mr. Aronson was elected in 2009 to the New England Tire & Service Association Hall of Fame, and he also served on the board of directors of both the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association (NTDRA) and the Tire Association of North America, predecessors to the Tire Industry Association.
Mr. Aronson's retirement and the closing of Century Tire was big news in Portland, but it even made the national news with an article in USA Today, Mr. Aronson said.
The dealership's closing was announced in a Portland newspaper ad that drew many longtime loyal customers to its doorstep for one last, sad look.
According to the Press Herald, Mr. Aronson greeted visitors wearing "a tie and a tweed jacket and looking more like an old-fashioned banker than a tire dealer."
Among sad patrons bidding adieu, the Press Herald said, was Robert Skilling, 79, owner of an excavation company that operates nine trucks. He told a reporter that Century Tire had been putting tires on his trucks for 51 years and, referring to Mr. Aronson, said "he really treated us well."
That seemed to be the ongoing sentiment of many who came to say good-bye.
Mr. Aronson also received many good wishes from friends and colleagues in the industry. Among them was Joseph A. DePaolis, former president of both the NTDRA and Antonelli Firestone Tire Co. Inc. in Rochester, N.Y.
"I hadn't heard from him for years, and it was great to speak with him again," Mr. Aronson said of Mr. DePaolis.
The Century Tire store on Kennebec Street in Portland, the company's flagship store since the 1940s, was the last remaining Century Tire outlet, according to Mr. Aronson. At one time there were four Century Tire locations in the Portland area, one with a retread plant.
The store with retreading capacity fell victim to rerouted traffic when the state built a new road, and two others were sold to Sullivan Tire & Auto Service, Mr. Aronson said. Now, he and his wife Adele, a semi-retired real estate broker, are selling the Kennebec Street property to a developer.
The property, according to the Press Herald article, is in what it described as "the up-and-coming Bayside neighborhood," making the land it occupies "more valuable than the business itself."
Mr. Aronson said his age was a factor in selling the business, as was the fact that his three sons have chosen other professions and moved far from Portland. (One son is a multi-media photographer for Texas Instruments in California; the second a tennis pro and representative for New Balance, the shoe company in Florida; and the third a Reconstructionist rabbi in Houston.)
Asked about the changes he's seen in the tire business since entering it, Mr. Aronson mentioned both the vast changes in tire technology and the proliferation of tire sizes.
"Time was when a customer told me he had a 1994 Impala, I could tell him what three tires I had in stock that would fit his car perfectly," he said. "Now that's become almost impossible — there are so many new bells and whistles."
Competition has also changed the tire business almost out of recognition, according to Mr. Aronson. When he first started at Century Tire, he recalled, his competition consisted of Noyes Tire, Yudy's Tire and a Goodyear dealership. He spoke of Walker Noyes, president of Noyes Tire, as a particularly close friend.
"It wasn't like we weren't competing against each other as hard as we could, but we respected each other, and we knew all our suppliers' executives by name," he said. "We didn't have to deal with car dealers or price clubs. When that happened, it became a simple matter of getting market share."
In retirement, Mr. Aronson and his wife plan to spend as much time as possible visiting their three sons and six grandchildren. Two of his granddaughters, he said, are studying at California Polytechnic Institute, and a grandson is at the University of Maryland.
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What's the one benefit you wish your company offered?
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How often do you update your shop and/or business software?
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