Construction of new Les Schwab tire store in Missoula marks company’s rapid growth

Construction is underway on Les Schwab’s new state-of-the-art tire store off Russell Street in Missoula. The store will be the first of its kind in Montana and follows the company’s plans to expand into new markets and renovate its older stores. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

A vacant lot formerly occupied by the Five Valleys Bowling Center off Russell Street will serve as the new home of Les Schwab Tire, a company that’s undergoing rapid expansion across the Western U.S.

Construction of the new facility began earlier this month on the corner of Dearborn and Russell, and the store is expected to open by the end the year.

For the employees who’ve been changing tires in outdoor bays off Brooks Street over the past few decades – regardless of the weather – the new facility can’t open fast enough.

“That store there is very old,” said Les Schwab store manager Jim Chandler. “It has limited parking and we’ve added on three times. At the end of the day, it has outdoor bays, which are miserable in the winter time.”

On Tuesday, Chandler said the company has focused its recent growth in Colorado and Southern California, where it’s adding new locations. It’s also looking at new markets in Montana, with stores in Bozeman, Billings and Great Falls under consideration.

“We’re building approximately 10 to 15 brand new stores a year,” said Chandler. “They’re nothing like you’ve seen here, though our new Missoula store will be the first. They’re designed around the customer. It’ll have massive parking, and all the tire and alignment bays will be together.”

Nearly a year ago, the city granted the Woodbury Corporation’s request to demolish the old Five Valleys Bowling Center and redevelop the lot with as many as three new tenants. Les Schwab was the first to sign on to the redevelopment project.

“The opportunity came open where the old bowling alley was,” Chandler said. “We’re starting a modernization project and we’re going to upgrade all our stores. They’re taking the old stores and starting to remodel.”

Les Schwab traces its history back to 1952 when Les Schwab purchased the old OK Rubber Welders tire store in Prineville, Oregon. That first year, the company increased its sales from $32,000 to $150,000.

Les Schwab was the first to employ the concept of a “supermarket tire store,” placing its tire warehouse inside its showroom. It also moved to stock more than one brand of tire. The effort paid off, as the company grew to 35 locations by 1972.

Now, Chandler said, Les Schwab claims 474 locations across the West with sales approaching $2 billion a year, making it one of the nation’s largest independent tire companies.

The new Missoula store will resemble Les Schwab’s new tire store in Fontana, California.

“In Montana, it started out with Tom Sherry Tire,” said Chandler. “Tom Sherry Tire owned this store (West Broadway) and that store across town on Brooks. Les Schwab partnered up with Tom Sherry and that’s how it started in Montana.”

The new location, which will include four tire bays and four alignment bays, is expected to generate as many as five new jobs. The company plans to keep its warehouse but sell its tire store fronting Brooks Street once the new facility opens.

“We’re going to sell just the tire shop – the front building,” Chandler said. “We’re keeping the back building for use as storage.”

In its application to the city, the Woodbury Corporation anticipated adding two other buildings to the redevelopment project, both of which were planned for restaurants. The company’s list of potential tenants included Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, and Kneaders, among others.

Woodbury has not yet announced the two tenants.

“We’re working on it,” Woodbury representative Kraig Erickson said Tuesday. “I’ve got a few things going right now, but I’m not ready to announce anything.”