ESCANABA - While opinions vary on whether or not Escanaba can support six auto parts stores, some local employees agree motorists are maintaining their cars and trucks to keep them longer because of the high price of new vehicles.
Escanaba now has six auto parts stores including O'Reilly Auto Parts and AutoZone which recently opened along North Lincoln Road, not far from Advance Auto at the corner of Lincoln Road and 3rd Avenue North.
Other parts businesses are Auto Value on Ludington Street, Carquest Auto Parts on North 30th Street, and NAPA Auto Parts on Stephenson Avenue.
Vehicle parts are also available through local car dealership service centers and local mechanics, many who shop at the area's auto parts stores.
"I believe there's always been a demand for auto parts," commented Andrea Dick, store manager at the local O'Reilly store where $2.5 million worth of 337,000 parts are available. The business can also access another $1.7 million worth in parts, she added.
"I think people are keeping their cars longer and maintaining them due to the cost of new vehicles," Dick said.
O'Reilly's customer base is half retail customers and half commercial customers. Customers have passenger cars and trucks, farming and agricultural equipment, heavy duty trucks, and power sporting equipment, said Dick.
When questioned why corporate decided to build a franchise in Escanaba within close proximity to two other auto stores, Dick said she did not know.
She did say that business has been very good since the store opened here in January. The company, which started in 1957, has 4,196 stores nationwide and is planning to build 100 more stores this year, she added.
The Escanaba Planning Commission approved the site plan for O'Reilly in June last year. According to the June 11 meeting minutes, Planning Commissioner Roy Webber asked a project engineer for O'Reilly if a market study had been done which included the current Advance Auto nearby and the AutoZone being built next door.
The engineer replied it's his experience that O'Reilly is not afraid of the competition, stated the meeting minutes.
The planning commission approved AutoZone's site plan in May 2013. At that meeting, Webber questioned AutoZone's construction plans being in close proximity to two other auto parts stores.
City Manager Jim O'Toole stated the auto parts store is a use permitted by right and the planning commission cannot dictate use and the city doesn't dictate commerce, stated the meeting minutes.
Also at the May 2013 meeting, an employee of Advance Auto expressed concerns about the construction of AutoZone.
Rich Meyer, a commercial parts professional, questioned the commission about AutoZone's plans for snow removal, drainage, parking, loading, vegetation, curb cuts, and traffic flow.
O'Toole addressed these areas but did not comment on Meyer's concerns on how AutoZone would affect other similar businesses and the community's economics.
In a telephone interview with the Daily Press, Meyer said he does not know how the community can support so many auto parts stores, especially considering the city's declining population.
Meyer did say that more drivers are holding onto their vehicles longer and doing more repair work themselves.
Carquest Auto Parts Associate Manager Theresa Gucky agreed, saying the bad economy is making people keep their vehicles as long as possible. Many are ordering parts off the Internet and working on their vehicles themselves, she added.
Gucky commented the city council made "a big mistake" to allow more auto parts stores here because it will hurt a lot of local businesses.
NAPA Store Manager Bruce Wallace expressed similar concerns saying some businesses will suffer due to the additional auto parts stores in town.
"You have the same demand for supplies but you have more supplies than demand. I don't see demand increasing to the extent of supply," explained Wallace. "I see the pie getting divided into smaller pieces."
He agreed that more people are hanging onto their vehicles longer with many do-it-yourselfers maintaining their cars and trucks.
"But there's a limit to what backyard mechanics can do," he added, noting that newer vehicles often require special equipment to work on them.
Doug Pratt, a sales employee at Auto Value, said auto parts sales there are increasing every day as more people become mechanics, more individuals are working out of their garages, and commercial accounts go up.
Routine maintenance as well as winter's toll on vehicles and summer's recreation and sporting events also positively affect sales of auto parts, added Pratt.
The manager at Escanaba's AutoZone referred the Daily Press to company headquarters which did not respond prior to press time.
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