Is Western Auto Still In Business in 2024?

Is Western Auto Still In Business? Before Walmart and Amazon, people used to go to Western Auto for car stuff, tools, toys, and more. They had many stores, over 1,200 of their own and 4,000 others run by dealers, mostly in small towns. Western Auto was one of the first to have catalogue sales, where you could order stuff from a book.

In 1988, Sears bought Western Auto, but in 1998, they sold it to Advance Auto Parts. Sadly, by 2003, all the Western Auto stores closed down. In October 2003, Advance Auto told Western Auto that by January 2004, they would stop giving them things to sell. This meant the end of Western Auto after almost 100 years. In short, Western Auto is not in business now. Let’s find out more!

Why Did Western Auto Go Out Of Business?

Some store owners said Western Auto went out of business because they noticed Advance Auto was stopping some brands, not updating their computer systems, and sending fewer types of things to sell. Advance Auto Parts said sending appliances, home and garden stuff, car parts, and tools to over 300 independent stores in 33 states became too hard.

Then, Maurice Sanger opened a museum in Georgetown, Delaware, to bring back memories of Western Auto. He’s collected tons of stuff over 50 years, including a catalogue from when Western Auto first started in 1909.

The museum has old Western Flyer bikes, car stuff from the ’50s, toys, tools, and even NASCAR from when Western Auto sponsored racer Darrell Waltrip. 

What Challenges Did Western Auto Face?

Western Auto faced challenges that made it close down:

People didn’t feel like buying cars:

  • Cars became expensive due to high fuel prices, more loan interest, and costly insurance.
  • Even during holidays, people only bought a few vehicles, and dealers had many unsold cars.

Money Troubles and IL&FS Crisis:

  • In 2018, a financial crisis (IL&FS crisis) made it hard to get money.
  • Dealers and customers needed help to get loans quickly, affecting car purchases, especially in rural areas.

Too Many Unsold Cars:

  • Low demand and a slow holiday season meant dealers had fewer cars left.
  • Dealers needed more money to handle the extra cars, making things worse.

Economic Issues and Car Industry Changes:

  • Overall, economic problems, like expensive fuel and high interest, influenced how people bought things.
  • The car industry struggled, and Western Auto needed help to keep up with these changes.

New Owners and Industry Changes:

  • New owners, like Sears and Advance Auto Parts, changed how Western Auto worked.
  • Changes in the whole industry affected traditional stores like Western Auto.

In short, problems like money issues, changing consumer needs, and new owners led to Western Auto closing down.

Background Of Western Auto

Western Auto Supply Company, also known as Western Auto, was a big chain of stores selling car parts and accessories. It started way back in 1909 in Kansas City, Missouri, by two guys named George Pepperdine and Don Abnor Davis. George Pepperdine later went on to start Pepperdine University.

Who Made Tools for Western Auto, and When Did They Start Using Their Brand?

  • Western Auto mostly sold products made by other companies instead of making their own. At first, they mainly sold tools from different companies. Here are some of the companies whose devices they sold: 
  • APCO
  • Beckley-Ralston
  • Bethlehem
  • Billings & Spencer
  • Billmont
  • Crescent
  • Diamond
  • Herbrand
  • Hinsdale
  • Industry
  • K-D, Kraeuter
  • Millers Falls
  • Mossberg
  • Sioux
  • Vlchek
  • Walden
  • Williams

Later on, around the 1930s, Western Auto started putting their brand on some of the tools they sold. They worked closely with companies like Duro/Investor, Herbrand, and Vlchek to make these tools. They also worked with other companies like Barcalo and J.P. Danielson.

Who Bought Western Auto?

In 1961, Beneficial Corporation bought Western Auto. Then, in 1985, Western Auto’s people repurchased it in a leveraged buyout. Three years later, they sold it to Sears. Sears then sold most of Western Auto to Advance Auto Parts in 1998. Eventually, in 2003, Western Auto disappeared because of a merger with Advance Auto Parts.

After Western Auto was no longer in operation, the main office building in Kansas City was turned into apartments. They kept the big Western Auto sign on top of the building and even relit it in 2018.

Western Auto started selling car parts by mail and opened its first store in 1921. They grew fast as more people started driving cars. At one point, they had over 1,200 stores and even more associate stores, mostly in small towns.

Besides car parts, Western Auto owned other companies that made tyres, radios, and wigs. They had their brands for bikes, tyres, and electronics. They even had stores named Auto America and Parts America.

How Did Western Auto Change and Grow in the 1980s?

In 1961, Beneficial Finance Corporation bought Western Auto, and they kept it until 1985. Then, Western Auto’s managers and Wesray Capital Corporation did a special kind of buying called a leveraged buyout and got the company.

Around the early 1980s, because stores like Wal-Mart were doing well, Western Auto changed all their company-owned stores to “FLAG” stores. These FLAG stores only sold car parts and stuff. Most were in more city-like areas, similar to how stores are today. Even though Western Auto Wholesale told the other stores to sell mainly car stuff, those associate stores didn’t want to. They were in small towns, and people there liked having more things to buy. This disagreement helped the company later on.

Then, in 1986, Western Auto bought 40 White Stores in Texas from Canadian Tire for $24.5 million. They also bought Tire America in Wheeling, West Virginia, in February 1987 and National Tire Warehouse in Dale City, Virginia, later that same year.

How Did Western Auto Change After Sears Bought It In 1988?

In 1988, Sears Roebuck acquired Western Auto from Wesray Capital.

In 1995, Western Auto got 84 auto parts stores from Nationwide Automotive in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Tennessee. They acquired Wheels Discount Auto Supply and its 82 auto parts stores in New York and Pennsylvania from Fay’s Drug for $37 million.

In 1995, Sears began turning Western Auto stores into a new style called Parts America. They focused only on selling parts and took out the places where they fixed cars. By 1998, almost all the 600 company-owned Western Auto stores became Parts America stores.

By the start of 1997, only 850 company-owned stores were left. The associate stores, with a broader variety of products like appliances, electronics, hardware, typewriters, bicycles, go-karts, and outdoor equipment/parts, became the leading stores of the company. Sears created a new company called National Tire and Battery, taking National Tire Warehouse and Tire America from Western Auto, which they kept until 2003.

From 1991 to 1997, Western Auto sponsored NASCAR driver Darrell Waltrip’s race team. They also sponsored Al Hofmann’s Funny Car in NHRA from 1994 to 1997.

How Did The Sale Of Western Auto Affect The Stores?

In 1998, Sears sold what was left of Western Auto to Advance Auto Parts. This was different from the usual kind of business deal people expected. Sears became a significant shareholder in Advance Auto Parts, owning 40%. 

They also combined their store networks, including Western Auto’s stores. Advance Auto had 915 stores, Parts America Stores had 590, and there were 40 Western Auto stores in Puerto Rico. This merger made Advance Auto much more significant, with over 1,500 stores in 36 states. 

Sears got $175 million in cash, and Advance Auto got an additional $70 million from investors. Even though Sears owned 40% of Advance Auto, both companies kept their good credit ratings. 

Some Western Auto stores became Sears Dealer stores, and the rest became Advance stores. But, the promise made to the remaining stores about having a great future in the Western Auto tradition has yet to come true. Advance didn’t support those stores much, and most bought their stuff from other places, only using the Western Auto name.

Western Auto Name Usage: What Happened After 2006?

Until 2006, stores with the Western Auto name were allowed to use it, but they were supposed to stop after that. 

Some stores still use the name even though they’re not allowed to. No store can officially use the Western Auto name or sign now. The company that owns the title, Advance Auto Parts, checks if anyone uses it without permission, but we need to know if they have plans for the name. 

Advance Auto Parts used the Western Auto name in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands until 2006, but then they closed the last store. All the other stores in that area slowly changed to Advance stores.

Online Presence 

You won’t find stores called Western Auto anymore. Instead, they joined with Advance Auto Parts. 

If you need car parts or tools, you can go to Advance Auto Parts stores or their website. Advance Auto Parts has an extensive website where you can buy car stuff without going to a store. Just go online, see what they have, and buy what you need.

In short, Western Auto stores are now part of Advance Auto Parts. You can check out their website or visit their stores if you need car stuff.

Recommended Alternatives To Western Auto

If you need car parts, here are some places you can check out:

  • GoMechanic: GoMechanic has genuine car parts and the original ones your car came with. They have transparent prices, and you can get help 24/7. You can visit their website or workshops to find what you need.
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  • AutoZone: AutoZone is a popular store for car parts. They have 26 stores near Indianapolis, Indiana. You can go to an AutoZone store to get new features or extra accessories for your car.
  • Euro Car Parts: Euro Car Parts has many branches in different places. Use their store finder to see which one is closest to you and when it’s open.
  • PartSource (Canada): If you’re in Canada, you can go to a PartSource store to find car parts.

Final Thoughts

In the end, Western Auto went out of business. Yes, it isn’t around like it used to be, but its influence on the car industry is still felt today. Even though the original stores are gone, and the brand has changed hands a few times, it still matters in car parts and stores. Now, Advance Auto Parts carries on Western Auto’s legacy. They’re still giving people good car parts everywhere, even if you need help finding Western Auto stores. The important thing is that they’re still focused on helping customers and ensuring they get quality stuff, just like Western Auto did back in the day.