Over A Million Tires Later, Oldest Tire Shop in Billings Closes
The oldest tire shop in Billings served their final customer last Friday and by the end of this week, the doors will be locked for the last time at the two-story building on historic Montana Avenue. I stopped by B & B Tire today (12/15) and after chatting for a good 45 minutes, I left feeling grateful to have caught up with owner Wiley Taylor, who was in the final stages of winding down the long-running family business.
B & B Tire has been operating since 1958.
Wiley shared some great stories about the tire business. In 1958, his father Bill had been working as an employee at a shop named Wally For Tires, when a disagreement with the boss led Bill to quit. He immediately opened his own tire store just a few blocks away from Wally's. Wally For Tires closed years ago, while B & B continued to flourish. It was a family business; in the picture above, Wiley shows a 1960's Billings Gazette article featuring his mother Mary changing a large truck tire.
B & B Tire sold over a million tires to Montanans since 1958.
Wiley estimated they've sold at least a million tires. That's a lot of rubber. About a decade ago the shop started making a ball out of the stickers that come on new tires (seen above). It doesn't appear that Guinness World Records offers a category for tire sticker balls, but the big ball at B & B Tire easily fills the bed of a truck. Taylor estimates it weighs around a thousand pounds. He had to load it with a forklift and wasn't really sure how he was going to get it out of the back of the pickup truck when he takes it to the landfill.
The shop has the 2nd oldest Coats brand tire machine in America.
The lobby at B & B Tire is now almost empty as Taylor was preparing to send the remaining machines and tools to auction. There is one item that won't be sold, however. It's the tire machine pictured above. The same machine his mother is shown using in the old Gazette article, and it's the second oldest Coats tire machine in existence.
Wiley shared that just before 9-11, the Coats company sent a letter to all of their clients with details regarding a promotion to find the oldest Coats tire machine. The company asked for additional pictures and the serial number on B & B's machine, which he provided. The winning entry was just a couple of years older than Wileys machine and the owner won a weeklong vacation in Las Vegas, a brand-new, state-of-the-art tire machine worth thousands, and bragging rights. Wiley's second-place winning received a pocket knife with a company logo, he laughed.
The tire business - and Montana Ave - have changed a lot in 60 years.
Growing up in his father's shop, Wiley has seen a lot of changes in both the tire business and on Montana Avenue. He recounted the early 70's when Amtrack trains still carried thousands of passengers to and from downtown Billings. When Amtrack pulled out, Montana Avenue became Billings' "red light" district with shady characters and boarded-up businesses. Decades later, it's now a popular downtown destination, filled with restaurants, galleries, breweries, and shops.
What's next for the B & B Tire building?
The building, originally a 1940's Case tractor dealership, has been sold to Billings businessman Mike Whalen (no relation to Whalen Tire), who owns a handful of downtown properties. Taylor said Whalen plans to use the warehouse directly behind the shop for storage. Immediate plans for the historic tire shop are yet-to-be-determined, according to Wiley.
As for Wiley, he said he's looking forward to whatever comes next. At 64, he said he'll probably work for a few more years, maybe as a school bus driver or at a golf course. Both jobs would give him seasons off and time to relax a bit. Closing the shop seemed bittersweet for the tire man, who said that he'll miss his customers and clients the most. Many have become close friends over the years.