How much longer will auto parts stores be around?
In college I worked the parts counter at a national auto parts chain store in Seattle. I loved my job. I worked all day on Saturdays and Sundays and from 5 pm to 10 pm two to three times during the week. I loved helping out and learning about the customers’ project cars, learning about different parts for different cars and occasionally helping stranded motorists by changing a battery, doing an electrical test, even breaking the rules once and changing out an alternator right there in the parking lot. In the dark.
This was in the late 1990s, and the auto parts store was a busy environment of shared enthusiasm for cars and ambitious DIYers taking on repair projects for their beloved vehicles.
I have a feeling that culture is gone… or quickly vanishing.
I stopped in at an auto parts store a few weeks ago to pick up a headlamp for my car. The place was a rundown ghost town. A few workers milled in the back, each wearing their matching polo shirts, but none seemed anxious or even willing to help. I was the only customer. The products on the shelves throughout the store were dusty and obviously hadn’t been rotated, or even touched, in quite a long time.
I paid for my headlamp, “helped” by a surly woman in an ill-fitting polo, and left shaking my head. What a stark contrast to the busy, happy environment of the auto parts store I used to know. Heck, I remember this young blonde girl coming in and searching the shelves for a few minutes before I asked her if she needed help finding anything. She explained that she had some scratches on her car, and her brother sent her to the store to pick up some elbow grease, which would get the scratches out.
I’ve been laughing at that for 15 years now. Would young people today even think to send someone to the parts store, as a joke or not?
Today I drove by a few more auto parts stores, and all of them had empty parking lots. It made me wonder if people still frequent their local parts store, or if the combo of a sinking car culture and newer cars that are hard to work on are taking a toll on their future.
When did you last visit an auto parts store?