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Enterprising Spirit: Preedy’s Tire and Automotive owner stays light on his feet during pandemic

The staff at Preedy’s Tire & Automotive includes, from left, Mel Fries, who staffs the front counter, owner Kelly Wright, technician Tony Boitano and technician Jon LeBlanc. Wright’s family has held the business since the 1970s.  (JESSE TINSLEY/The Spokesman-Review)
The staff at Preedy’s Tire & Automotive includes, from left, Mel Fries, who staffs the front counter, owner Kelly Wright, technician Tony Boitano and technician Jon LeBlanc. Wright’s family has held the business since the 1970s. (JESSE TINSLEY/The Spokesman-Review)
By Nina Culver The Spokesman-Review

Editor’s note: Our series Enterprising Spirit documents how businesses and workers are managing the economy’s slow return to life after its sudden shutdown in March – and adapting to new challenges ahead.

Preedy’s Tire and Automotive has been tucked into a mostly industrial neighborhood on the west end of downtown Spokane for decades, serving generations of customers.

They didn’t see much of a downturn in business in March or April, but it dropped significantly in May, said owner Kelly Wright. “People were just sitting tight,” he said. “Some people didn’t know we were open.”

Business rebounded again in June, however, and has stayed there. Wright said that’s probably because people tend to fix their cars in an economic downturn instead of just buying a new one.

“The tire business tends to be a good business in a tough economy,” Wright said. “We do OK.”

One change came when the studded tire removal deadline was pushed back. “It just spread things out for us,” he said. “We usually have a real panic rush to get them off by April 1.”

There have been other changes as well. Employees wear masks and plastic shields line the front counter. And the drop-off process isn’t as simple as handing over the car keys anymore. “We have a whole protocol,” Wright said.

When a customer hands over the keys, they are sprayed with disinfectant. Then the technician uses cleaning wipes on the steering wheel and any other surface they need to touch inside the car. “We do the same thing in reverse when we’re done,” he said. “It seems to be a pretty good protocol. Our customers seem to appreciate it.”

The business also does curbside service for those who don’t want to enter the business, and Wright said he’s even gone to customers’ homes to pick up their car. He jokes that it gives him something to do.

Wright hasn’t had to lay off any employees. “I would take a pay cut before we did that,” he said. “The people are the lifeblood of our business. A lot of my staff have been with me for a lot of years.”

He can trace the roots of his business back to the 1920s. The shop opened as W.D. Goodrich. When the business owner’s son took over, it was renamed Ross Tires. The business closed when Wright’s father, Emmett Wright, was the general manager. He started a trucking company that, among other things, hauled copies of The Spokesman-Review to Lewiston for delivery.

The Preedy brothers, Dale and Cloyd, bought Ross Tires after it had been closed for a year. They renamed it Preedy’s Tire & Automotive in 1962 and soon convinced Emmett Wright to come on as a partner. Kelly Wright took over the business in 1992. It’s been in its current location at 703 E. Pacific Ave, since 1974.

Though he’d worked a bit in the shop as a kid, Wright never expected to take it over. At the age of 14, he left Spokane to become a classical ballet dancer in Canada with the Alberta Ballet Company. He’d go on to dance with the Pacific Northwest Ballet, the Joffrey Ballet in New York and Ballet Folk of Moscow, Idaho.

After leaving dance, he worked at Electrolux Vacuum for 10 years, eventually becoming the national service manager. He shifted to chemical companies and was managing a chemical plant in Los Angeles when he came back to Spokane in 1986 to take a job with Great Western Chemical. But he had a little time on his hands before his new job started and “the boys” asked him to help out in the tire shop while he waited.

“I liked it so darn much I stayed,” Wright said. “I was getting tired of the corporate thing. The challenge of the automotive industry is a lot more technical and complex than I thought it would be. And I like people.”

At the time Wright took over the shop, they sold tires and also did brake work and alignments. He expanded the business to include engine and transmission work. “For the most part we try to be a one-stop shop,” he said.

The business is the only Goodyear tire dealer in Spokane. “All that Goodyear stuff is national accounts,” he said. “We do a lot of fleet work.”

Wright said he doesn’t think that contract work helped cushion the COVID-19 blow. “The mix didn’t change for us,” he said. “A lot of those guys were furloughed. It was all down.”

It may have been their downtown location that helped saved them, Wright said. It makes the shop a convenient location for downtown workers, including doctors and nurses, to drop off their cars at the beginning of the day. “It’s a great spot,” he said.

Wright is looking forward to continuing to provide great service to his customers. “We’re not just here to fix a car,” he said. “The key to success is to know your customer. I know all my customers. They’re friends, guys I hunt with and second, third, fourth generations.”

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