IBERIA — Van’s Auto Service and Tire Pros, based in Wadsworth, Ohio, recently purchased an Iberia icon.
Smittie’s Tires has been a village mainstay since 1956. But Smittie’s was known well beyond the Iberia village limits. Local customers from Galion, Mount Gilead, Marion and Mansfield and elsewhere have taken their vehicles to Tom Smith for new tires and other repairs for years.
Their loyalty is openly talked about by those regulars.
But this summer, Tom Smith, 61, the son of Smittie’s original owner, who has worked at the shop and convenience store at 3594 Ohio 309 , decided he was ready to do something else.
“I just figured it was time to retire,” he said. “I’ve been doing this a long time. I’ve got a lot of great customers. I’ve got some third-generation customers who come here, and I so appreciate that. But I’m ready to do something else.”
But Smittie’s isn’t going by the wayside.
The business was purchased by Van’s Tires Pros, which has big plans for their newest business.
“We know what a reputation Tom has,” said Mike Miranda, who is overseeing the changes in Iberia. “We don’t want to do anything to mess with that.”
Miranda’s name is well-known in the Mansfield area. He was one of the originators of the popular and successful Be Focal, Buy Local effort in Richland County. Last Thursday, sitting in a decades-old office, literally behind a soda machine, surrounded by dozens of new and used tires, while being interrupted every few minutes by an air-compressor, Miranda discussed the future of the tire business in Iberia.
In addition to a facility in Wadsworth, Van’s Tires is opening a store in Mansfield while growing the one in Iberia, which means between the three stores, there will be thousands of tires available within 90 minutes of the Iberia site.
“We’re putting up a new four-bay garage right next door,” said Miranda. “It’s going to be big enough that we can do dualies. There will be a waiting area for customers and with snack machines and a bathroom.
Construction of the new facility started within the last two weeks. Miranda anticipates it will be fully operational in March or April. The future of the current building housing Smittie’s is uncertain.
“I know they’re trying to sell it,” he said. “Who knows, maybe someone will but it and fix it up. Maybe some kind of franchise with a convenient story and gas will move in. I don’t know.”
But he hopes the changeover from Smittie’s to Van’s Tire Pros will be a positive for the Iberia area.
“Maybe this can be the start of some growth,” he said.
Since July, as Tom Smith has started to cut back on his work responsibilities, Smittie’s has been run and managed by Clint Cunningham, who has been making the commute from Wadsworth daily.
“We couldn’t have done this without Tom and without the efforts of Clint Cunningham,” Miranda said. “They’ve kept this place running during these changes and I can’t say more about what they’ve done.”
Miranda is excited about the opportunities that await in the area.
“Tom’s paid his dues,” he said. “He’s ready for a change. But this is a great opportunity for Van’s. We wouldn’t be doing this if that wasn’t the case.”
“Smittie’s has such a loyal following,” Miranda continued. “But we’re going to be offering the same types of Smittie’s deals and Smittie’s customer service he has been known for. That’s not going to change.
“But in today’s world, it’s hard to just make a living doing just tires anymore,” he said. “Just the evolution of cars and computers and sensors is making it difficult to do that. We’ll be selling tires, and batters and doing brakes and realignments. We’re the only ones here who will be doing that.”
The company is making an investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars. He also is looking to hire four people.
“We’re looking for someone to run this and we’re looking for three mechanics,” Miranda said. “If they are from this area, that’s even better. Ideally, we’d love that.”
Miranda said if he can find a qualified mechanic, they could start almost immediately.
“You can see how busy this place is,” he said.
For information on the jobs available, potential workers can call Miranda at 419-468-1777 or visit the Vans Tire Pro website at www.vanstirepros.com