LOS ANGELES-``It's a nightmare,'' tire store manager George Hajj said in describing the feeling in his stomach at 4:31 a.m. Jan. 17, when the ground around Northridge, Calif., began to shake. ``You think that your life is going to end,'' he said. ``You say, `It's going to fall in a second.' You're waiting for your house to fall down.''
The Jan. 17 quake lifted sections of earth more than 12 feet, caused an estimated $30 billion in damage, injured more than 8,000 and claimed 56 lives.
The next day, Mr. Hajj made a lonely, 35-minute journey from his home to the Discount Tire Center outlet, owned by AKH Corp., that he manages near the quake's epicenter in Northridge.
At 7:30 a.m. he pulled into the parking lot where Discount Tire Center stood among the crumbled remains of less fortunate buildings.
Waiting in front of the building-despite having their apartments destroyed a day earlier-were two of his employees ready to begin work.
``I'm really lucky to have people like that,'' Mr. Hajj said a week after the 6.6-magnitude quake. ``They live in a park-that's where they live now-and they're here at work every day.''
The Los Angeles earthquake affected nearly every tire dealership throughout the area in some way, according to dealers contacted by TIRE BUSINESS following the tragic event.
A spokesman for Goodyear, which has between 15 and 20 company-owned outlets in the area affected by the earthquake, said damage to its stores was light.
``Our biggest worry is there are a lot of employees out there who had damage to their houses and are staying in a field someplace,'' he said. ``We are usually involved somehow when something like this occurs just because of the sheer number of people involved.''
Many dealerships located closest to the epicenter could not be contacted by telephone.
Others, like Mr. Hajj's dealership, located about three miles from the epicenter, were spared major damage-though employees spent two days cleaning up glass and repairing fallen and broken machinery.
Larry Taylor, manager of Chatsworth Tire & Service Center in nearby Chatsworth, had to rent a portable generator to reopen his business in the middle of a 20-block area left without electricity for more than three days.
Chatsworth Tire suffered an estimated $8,000 worth of damage in broken machinery and cracked walls, but Mr. Taylor said the business sustained no major problems.
``Everything that's tires is OK. Things made of rubber don't break,'' he joked days after the quake.
But if many outlets sustained little damage, they still were finding conditions difficult.
``There's no business, '' said Barry Kronowitz, owner of undamaged Consumer Tire & Auto Service in Reseda, several miles from the quake's epicenter. ``Nobody wants to drive. They all want to stay at home and fix things up, and I understand that.''
Mr. Kronowitz said sales have dropped more than 95 percent as a result of the earthquake. He could not predict when surrounding streets and businesses would be repaired enough for people to return to normal buying patterns.
``I'd leave if there was someplace I could go that I'd like, but I don't know where that is right now,'' he said.
Damage to the Los Angeles area's transportation network, including some of the country's most traveled highways, had expanded travel times by hours, said Bob Hoffman of Five Brothers Inc. in Walnut, Calif.
Trino Rivera, a co-owner of San Fernando Tires & Wheels in the heavily damaged San Fernando Valley, said he was open for business one day after the quake but was finding sales below normal.
``Everybody is so scared, they are trying to clear their own houses, put their lives together,'' he said. ``They want to fix their own house. It's going take a while before they think of tires.''