Potsdam Tire & Auto celebrates 50 years in business
POTSDAM -- Fifty years ago, in the spring of 1968, 40-year-old Frank Kearing moved to northern New York with his wife, Beverly, and their five children aged 3 to 13. They had lived in Binghamton since the late 1950s, where he had been a partner in a family-owned multi-location tire dealership.When Urban Renewal took over their flagship location, the partners couldn’t agree on a strategy and disbanded. While working as a store manager for Goodyear in a company-owned store, he learned of a Goodyear pilot project to set up an entrepreneur to operate a franchised operation that appeared just like one of the company-owned stores. The operator would own the business and take advantage of Goodyear’s excellent buying price on major appliances, bicycles, lawn and garden and other household goods.
The location was built next to the new Montgomery Ward store on Depot Street in Potsdam, despite being a dead end, as it was a destination for most of St. Lawrence County at the time.
Thus S & K Tire Co., Inc., became the first Goodyear Franchised Tire Center in the world. Frank had been the product adjuster for the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company back when the St. Lawrence Seaway was being built, responsible for any tire quality concerns in the operations of what were then the largest construction tires built in the world. But other than that, he had very little experience with the North Country other than being a counselor at the Sabattis Boy Scout Camp, north of Long Lake, while in high school.
A major attraction of the Potsdam tire franchise at the time was the availability of capital to support credit terms. Bank cards were in their infancy, leaving consumers very few credit options other than house mortgages, car loans and Sears and Wards cards. Auto service was not a big draw as cars were still low tech and there were multiple full-service gas stations on several corners in town.
Fifty years later, appliances are no longer sold in tire stores, Clarkson University no longer has a downtown campus, Goodyear no longer has a franchised tire center program, almost every car on the road has more computer power than existed in the entire world in 1968, and local credit is a distant memory.
But Frank can still be found most mornings down at the tire store where he’s ready, 90 years young, to weigh in on any subject, run errands, and deliver tires when necessary. He and Bev hope to celebrate their 65th anniversary as well as the birth of their first great-grandchild in November. Bev, a retired schoolteacher, college prof, church organist and Sweet Adeline, still organizes a monthly sing-in at a Canton retirement home. Four of their five children are still in the tire business, now spread over four states.
As many of the once-young baby boomers who purchased their first set of tires or got their first credit account on Depot Street now approach retirement age, it’s safe to say that they have a good example in Frank of someone who has no interest in retirement!