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Alton’s, Tire-Rama merger three years in the making

Alton’s Tires will merge with Billings-based Tire-Rama Inc. at the end of the month in a deal that will unite two of the Northwest’s larger home-grown tire dealers.

It will also allow Alton’s founder Duane Alton to retire 44 years after he began the business with a single store. He gradually built one of the Inland Northwest’s most recognized franchises while venturing in and out of conservative politics.

Tire-Rama President Dave Wehr said Friday the two companies discussed a deal for three years before coming to terms, which were not disclosed.

Alton, he said, was reluctant to let his “baby” go.

“The man’s built quite a business,” Wehr said. “You don’t want to turn it over to just anyone.”

He said he has known Alton and his son Matt, Alton’s vice president, for several years. In 1990, Tire-Rama sold Alton’s a Coeur d’Alene store Tire-Rama had picked up during a 1988 transaction. That was the only store Tire-Rama operated outside Montana or Wyoming.

Wehr said Tire-Rama has purchased several other tire companies since it was formed in 1977, but the Alton’s deal will be the largest. Although he declined to discuss sales, he said the merger will create the 23rd-largest tire dealer in the United States.

Wehr said Tire-Rama’s goal is a 50-store system. With Alton’s 13 stores, the company will have 45.

Matt Alton will become operations manager for the Washington and Idaho stores, which will be relabeled Alton’s Tire-Rama, although no immediate change in signage is planned.

He said none of Alton’s 100 employees will lose their jobs as a result of the merger.

The Spokane and Billings companies will combine resources to create a stronger franchise with more product lines and services. Alton’s, for example, will add commercial tire lines to its offerings, Matt Alton said.