Western Auto to close in downtown Waynesboro

October 15, 2003|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Ernie Brockmann didn't know until last week that he would be closing his Western Auto Store in downtown Waynesboro for good on Dec. 31.

Western Auto headquarters in Kansas City, Mo., said in a letter to its network of stores dated Oct. 6, that the company would stop sending merchandise to its dealers after Dec. 15. The company will end its dealer contracts Jan. 4, according to the letter.

Western Auto had nearly 5,000 stores in the 1970s. Today, it has a little more than 300, the letter said.

"With the wide variety of products supplied to the dealers, as well as the reduced concentration of stores spread over a wide geographic area, it has become difficult to serve the dealer program effectively," the letter said.


The store's closing, after 44 years of continuous operation, will leave a significant gap in Waynesboro's downtown business community.

"It's sad to see it leave," said Carol Henicle, executive director of the Waynesboro Chamber of Commerce. "Ernie has been a great guy for downtown. He had a great cornerstone business that filled a need for many years. There aren't too many places like that left anymore, places like McCrory's and J.C. Penney's. Western Auto was one of them."

"The letter came as a surprise to all of us," said Brockmann, 63. "I knew I had to make a decision and this is the one I chose. I thought I'd last until I was eligible for full Social Security retirement at 65."

He said the opening of the new Advance Auto Parts store this summer in Wayne Heights, Pa., has had a small effect on his walk-in trade, since much of his business is in auto repairs.

"I've seen the trend in business change over the years," he said. "It's becoming considerably tougher to do business downtown." The closing will cost the jobs of the store's five employees, including two mechanics and three sales clerks, Brockmann said.

Agnes Stell has worked in the store for 16 years. She lives in one of the eight apartments Brockmann owns above the store.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," she said. "This is going to be hard to leave. I guess I'll take off for a while and collect unemployment, then see what schools are available, maybe nursing or computers."

Brockmann owns the buildings at 22-24 W. Main St. Until a few weeks ago, the store stretched into the storefront next door. He closed that section off, moved the merchandise into the main store and planned to rent out the vacant store. Now both storefronts will be available for rent, as will the three auto repair bays on the side of the building, he said.

He said he has no plans to sell the property.

Brockmann's father, Richard Brockmann, opened the Western Auto Store in 1959.

"I came here to help him for a year," he said. Brockmann bought the store from his father in 1979 and began to expand into auto repairs in the mid-1980s, when he added the repair bays.

In the early years, the store sold a variety of merchandise beyond auto supplies and accessories, he said.

"Western Auto stores sold furniture, appliances, household goods, even pots and pans," Brockmann said. "We had to keep changing over the years to give our customers what they wanted."

Western Auto began to concentrate on auto supplies and accessories, and dropped the other lines as competition from shopping malls took over, Brockmann said.

The store was filled with customers Tuesday afternoon taking advantage of the going-out-of-business sale. Brockmann is serious about the closing.

"Everything in the store is being sold at half price," he said. "There are some good bargains in here. I'm selling at half price to repay the support my customers have shown me over the years."

John Bowman, a longtime customer, walked into the store Tuesday carrying two handmade wooden signs. One said "Gone hunting," the other, "Gone fishing." He gave them to Brockman, who said he planned on doing both after the store closes.

The two men reminisced about Bowman's grandfather, Charles Bowman, who shopped in the store for years. "He didn't like to shop anywhere else," John Bowman said.

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