There it was at the top of the business briefs in last Thursday’s Herald. One small paragraph reporting one huge loss for downtown Bradenton. “Goodyear closing after 34 years.”
It was like I was reading an obituary for an old friend, someone I had known a long time and was going to miss terribly. Yes, it was a business, but it was much more than that. It was rare in today’s culture of companies only out to make a buck, and downtown is going to be the worse for its passing.
I started going to the downtown Goodyear many years ago, when I had bought a classic ’68 Chevelle from a friend of a friend. He told me, “Take it to the Goodyear down on Ninth Street. They’ll treat you right.” He was not wrong.
Within about six months, the Chevy needed four new tires. Four tires ... $400 I didn’t have. Jim, the manager at the Goodyear, told me, “Just bring me $50 a week.” He hardly knew me, and he didn’t make me get a Goodyear credit card or pay any interest. I was in there every week with 50 bucks, and so began our long friendship.
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Jim and Gary, a laid-back whiz under the hood, were helpful, efficient and honest. They never talked down to or tried to hoodwink a young woman who knew little more about cars than to put gas in them and go. I learned about generators, carburetors, batteries and brakes.
And they never tried to sell me stuff I didn’t need.
One time Gary told me, “In about six months, you’re gonna need new shocks.”
Another time, Jim sent me to a shop in Palmetto that specialized in the problem my car was having, and which fixed it for a $2 bottle of some kind of “miracle oil.”
That’s just the kind of businessmen they were.
They were never too busy to help. Whenever I called, Jim would never say, “We can work you in a week from Friday.” It was always: “When do you want to bring it in?”
One time the brakes went out down on the Trail, and he told me, “Bring it in. Drive real slow now, OK?”
And when one of my “metal magnets” masquerading as a tire would pick up a nail or a screw, I could just drive right in unannounced and they would hoist that sucker up on a lift, take off the tire and patch it.
A couple of times it was just my imagination the magnet had grabbed something, but they still took the time to check it out and didn’t charge me a dime.
And now, they’re gone. Just like that.
The owner died in August, and a few weeks ago the family decided it didn’t want to keep running the business. They told Jim it would close at the end of September, and that time has come.
I went by the other day just to see for myself, and the bays are empty, the showroom is bare.
I went across the street to Jake’s Automotive because I knew they would know what was up. You see, Jake’s may have been “the competition” to a degree, but it was a friendly rivalry between them and the guys at Goodyear for the past 34 years.
Mike, the shop manager, filled me in and then got my name and number and told me he’ll call me if he hears where Jim and Gary end up.
It reminded me that, for all its growth and 21st century infrastructure, Bradenton still is a small town that can call itself the Friendly City.
A city that has lost a friend.
M.K. Means, copy editor on the Herald’s news desk, can be reached at (941) 745-7054.