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They're BOSTON STRONG

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BOSTON—Paul Sullivan wasn't certain what he heard when two bombs detonated within seconds of each other April 15 during the 2013 Boston Marathon.

The vice president of marketing for Sullivan Tire & Auto Service was a spectator at the annual event, waiting for his son Mark, the dealership's promotions manager, to finish the race.

“I didn't realize they were explosions at the time. I was about five blocks out trying to make a connection with my son to let him know where I was,” Mr. Sullivan told Tire Business. “I received a text from the Boston Athletic Association that (Mark) had finished, and I was not able to reach anyone on my cell.

“As I looked around, nobody could make a call, which just seemed kind of unusual,” he continued. “And then I decided to move my automobile and go over to the Park Plaza (Hotel) area on Arlington Street, and I went into the hotel and saw people lined up to use the guest phone—the landline. Right away I knew there was an issue when you see people lined up to use a landline.”

Mark Sullivan, who was already leaving the area when the bombs went off, managed to locate his father by spotting his parked car.

In addition to him, John Drewniak, store manager for the company's Plymouth, Mass., outlet, also ran the race and several company volunteers attended to greet runners at the finish line. None of them was injured, but Mr. Sullivan called the whole ordeal sobering.

“I think people are still dusting off the shock, so to speak,” he said. “How could something of this magnitude happen in their own yard? Boston, like many cities, is so proud of the rich history, the quality of life, the sport teams, and they don't want to give it up.”

Mr. Sullivan said he believes area residents have become “more appreciative of what we have” in the aftermath of that day's events.

But Mr. Sullivan wasn't the only tire dealer impacted by the day's events, which left three people dead and more than 260 wounded.

Barry Steinberg, Boston resident and CEO of Direct Tire & Auto Service, based in Watertown—where the second bombing suspect was apprehended—said he had his own scare that day.

Mr. Steinberg lives five blocks from where the bombings took place. “Every year my son Matt comes in, and he and his kids and my wife walk over to watch the marathon,” he said. “This year there was such a crowd, and it was such a beautiful day...they said, 'You know what? Let's just go to the park today.'”

Mr. Steinberg's wife was back home and his son back on the road before the bombings, but he was unable to reach his family in the aftermath.

“We couldn't get a hold of her because cell phone service went down,” he said. “My daughter who lives in New York couldn't get a hold of anybody, my son couldn't get a hold of anybody, so everybody was in this panic around that 3 o'clock hour, but thank God everyone was fine.”

Mr. Steinberg said the bombings have left a black mark on what is otherwise a very special day for Boston residents.

“It's a celebration day,” he said of the running of the marathon on what is dubbed “Patriots' Day.”

“Win, lose or draw, people from all over the world come here,” he said. “It's always been a peaceful celebration where it doesn't matter who you are or where you're from or how fast you run—you go to the event and it's just a party.

“It's always been one of our best days, and now it's going to be our own 9/11. We'll do it next year, we'll be stronger and our security will be better, but it's just a scar on a beautiful event.”

Mr. Steinberg said he considers himself lucky to have not been personally acquainted with any of the victims of the bombing, but he knows people who are. “Boston's a pretty small town. It's a city, but we call it a town,” he said.

After several days of investigation, authorities tracked down the alleged bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his younger brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, in Watertown. A violent shootout between police and the two brothers took place in early hours of April 19 resulted in Tamerlan Tsarnaev's death. His brother managed to get away.

Police closed down sections of the Boston metro area that day in the wake of the shootout. Residents of Watertown and many of the surrounding areas were told to remain in their homes, while local businesses—including several tire dealerships—were forced to remain closed as police launched a large-scale manhunt for the remaining suspect.

Darren Cummings, owner of Watertown-based Express Tire Inc., said the closing likely cost his business between $10,000 and $15,000 in revenue, but the loss in sales wasn't his biggest concern.

“I think once you lose that, you're not typically going to recover that business—maybe a portion of it, but once it's gone it's gone for the most part,” he said. “But quite honestly—and I think a lot of the local guys feel the same way—I don't think that's at the top of our minds.... We're all happy that our friends and neighbors are safe and that this situation has been resolved for the most part.”

Dzhokar Tsarnaev was apprehended April 20 by police after he was discovered hiding in a boat parked in a Watertown resident's backyard.

Express Tire hung up a banner a few days later honoring local officials responsible for his capture, many of whom he considers friends.

“Just about everyone involved in this whole thing is actually a good friend and a good customer of ours because we service the police department, the fire department and the 'Who's Who,' if you will, of Watertown,” Mr. Cummings said.

“We're right on Main Street, so we're kind of at the epicenter of this whole situation.”

In fact, the initial shootout between police and the suspects was “right around the corner from us.”

“It's really surreal that these guys we're involved with every day had to be involved in that type of situation,” he said.

Direct Tire's Watertown store was among those that closed April 19 when the entire city of Boston and surrounding suburbs were on lockdown, but Mr. Steinberg said “at the end of the day, there's more important things than just doing business.”

Mr. Sullivan said three of his company's stores—located in Watertown, Boston and Newton, Mass.—were forced to shut down, but he too had “no problem with it whatsoever in light of what transpired.”

As for his son, Mr. Sullivan said he plans to run the marathon again in 2014.

“I'm sure the race will be bigger than ever before, and I would say it's to honor the people who suffered severe injury and loss of life,” he said.

“That's what Boston does. Boston is just a great city at perpetuating the spirit of the fallen.”



To reach this reporter: wschertz@ crain.com; 330-865-6148.
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