AKRON (Sept. 20, 2001) — With people at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in western Pennsylvania sifting through the rubble of the worst-ever terrorist attacks on the U.S., tire dealers contemplated what that terrorism might mean to their futures and the future of the business in general.
Though the economy, already nearing a recession, could be further slowed, dealers nationwide may not feel the brunt of that. The immediate aftershock of the tragedies produced, in most cases, extremely slow days in stores across the land.
“Monday (Sept. 10), we started off great and Tuesday it just died,” said Roger Dombroske, president of Mill Street Tire Inc. in Reno, Nev., whose town awakened to the horrifying televised images. “People are just not spending money, not knowing what the future has to hold.”
Reno's economy took a hit when its second-biggest tourist event of the year, the Reno Air Races, was canceled. Mr. Dombroske said that means $42 million in lost tourist dollars.
Most dealers echoed Mr. Dombroske's story, saying that Sept. 11 turned their stores into ghost towns, though traffic gradually picked up. Some attributed that to the nature of the business, saying people need tires. Others said it's a product of a nation bouncing back.
“We're a resilient type of people,” said Frank Boyle, president of A-1 Certified Auto Center in Jersey City, N.J., where some employees saw firsthand the attack on the World Trade Center across the Hudson River in Lower Manhattan. Mr. Boyle slept in that day and said he was glad he did.
Economies in such areas as Reno-Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas, Hilton Head Island, S.C., and Orlando, Fla., which rely heavily on travelers—especially air travelers—could be hurt. This could trickle down to some tire dealers who, at least in part, rely on the tourist trade, some dealers said.
“I'm sure it will (hurt Las Vegas). I don't know to the extent right now,” said Ted Wiens of Ted Wiens Tire and Auto Center in Las Vegas. “We don't know. In the local newspapers they've been talking to experts about what it would mean in terms of a decrease in tourism. Some hotels have already been laying off different shifts.”
Any slowdown in air travel isn't expected to affect the tire business as a whole, with most major shipments and deliveries handled by the trucking industry. Less air travel might mean more people driving greater distances, in turn meaning greater need for tires and auto service, dealers said.
Another potential result of the terrorist strikes could be loss of dealership employees to the armed forces. President Bush called up 35,000 reservists immediately after the attacks.
Darell Theissen, president of T&W Tire in Oklahoma City, said an employee in his Tulsa store is among the reservists called up. Mr. Theissen said losing the employee, if only temporarily, was always a possibility. Dealers with reservists on their staffs cooperate with them all year since reservists are active one weekend a month in non-war times.
Mr. Theissen said he will deduct the employee's service pay from his normal pay, meaning that the employee will still be compensated in full while on active duty.
“Everyone's flying the flag around here,” reported Norh Rhea, executive director of the Louisiana Independent Tire Dealers Association (LITDA). He sees the increased patriotism as “a good thing—we needed it. This will give the U.S. tremendous credibility” on the world's stage, though “it's unfortunate it had to happen this way.”
Most of the association's members saw a drop in business right after the terrorists struck, he said. For now, “we're just mourning and saying our prayers like everyone,” Mr. Rhea said. “We may plan a donation later on to some charity.”
Personally, he said he's “fixin' to paint a sign on the back window of my pickup truck that says, 'Adios, bin Laden.'”
One area that will apparently remain unaffected is the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association (SEMA) show and International Tire Expo, to be held Oct. 30-Nov. 2 in Las Vegas. A spokesman for SEMA said the event will not be canceled. The dealers who talked to Tire Business said they still plan on attending the SEMA show.
With the events of Sept. 11 still fresh in their minds, many dealers seem to believe any setbacks will be short-term.
“At least in time, people are going to need tires, just like people need a place to live and food to eat,” said Richard Colbum, president of Jimmy's Tire & Auto Center in Washington, D.C., not far from where a hijacked airplane crashed into the Pentagon.
Perhaps best summing up the tire industry, and current state of life in the world in general, was Larry Lesieur of Maynard & Lesieur Inc., in Nashua, N.H.
“Apparently,” he said, “life goes on.”
Reporters Vera Fedchenko and Sigmund J. Mikolajczyk contributed to this story.