Taneytown Auto Parts Inc.
Jack Deatherage, Jr.
(5/2) Several years ago, the tractor Marty had borrowed from the family farm blew a hydraulic pressure hose while we were moving logs. I got an on-the-spot mini-course in tractor repair. My biggest concern was where I'd have to drive Marty to
get a new steel corded pressure hose. The only tractor dealers I knew of were near Frederick, or as many miles north into Pennsylvania. I didn't think Marty would wait for me to go online and order a new hose.
"Take me to Small's in Taneytown." Marty said as he wrapped the dripping hose in a rag and headed for my van.
"Small's is still in business?" I remembered they'd had a shop in Emmitsburg a decade or so ago. "Where in Taneytown? I've never seen the shop, or a sign for that matter."
"Do you know where Franklin Street is off of Maryland 140?"
"Sure. It's the left just before the Exxon station."
"Small's is on Franklin."
The sign on the building says TANEYTOWN AUTO PARTS. I was a little confused until it occurred to me the older families in the area have personal relationships with the family owned businesses that seem to have been around forever. I doubt Marty even knew the shop's business name. He knew the family, the dad, the kids. They were parts dealers as Marty
was a farmer and once-upon-a-time amateur car racer.
We enter the building and someone calls out, "Well Marty Wivell! Haven't seen you in years. How have you been? How's the family? Sorry to hear about your dad." (I've never been greeted like that in a big box store. Marty's among friends in this place.)
The Small family owns and operates the business just as they have since 1964 when Jim Small opened the shop on East Baltimore Street (MD 140) in Taneytown. The shop moved into an old cannery on Franklin Street sometime in the 1970s. Which was around the time I first heard of the Small family through motorheads, amateur drag and sprint car racers, and
farmer friends of mine who had gone to Mother Seton School in Emmitsburg with Jim Small's kids.
It seemed every weekend someone I knew was heading over to Small's for a rebuilt starter, or generator, or something car or truck related. Less frequently someone would announce Small's was doing a valve job or a complete engine overhaul for them. Occasionally, one of the Small clan would turn up in a local drinking establishment and we'd sit and sip,
catching up on what-all we had gotten into (mostly trouble) since we'd last seen each other.
After the Smalls closed shop in Emmitsburg I lost track of them and figured the national brand auto parts stores had finally done them in. Heck, I've driven through Taneytown a thousand times and know where the other parts stores are because I can see the shops, or their signs from the highway. I asked Pat Small (he's working the counter whenever I
stop in) why the shop doesn't have a sign out along MD 140.
"We don't own property along Baltimore Street. We've talked to property owners that do about leasing us sign space, but town signage regulations have prevented that so far."
"So how do people find you?"
Pat smiles. "Most of our customers have been with us for years. They know where we are." But the smile fades as he admits business isn't what it used to be.
"There was a time when customers were lined up waiting to be served. Farmers, shade tree mechanics, local garage owners, race car owners. Times have changed. Competition with chain stores, fewer farmers, fewer vehicles people can work on themselves. That has really hurt us, the newer high tech cars and trucks."
Jeremy Lescalleet also works the counter when he isn't putting inventory on the shelves or pulling requested parts from the stacks behind the counter. He grins, "It isn't so bad that they can't employ me. But the number of people coming in every day has dropped over the years I've worked here."
The phone rings several times as I nose about the racks of tools (I'm fascinated by tools, especially the ones I don't know how to use, which is most of them.) I hear Jeremy taking an order over the phone. He hangs up and disappears into the stacks of small parts behind the counter. Pat answers the next phone call and quotes some prices before hanging
"It's almost always the same. 'Can you come down on price a bit? So and so has the same thing for less than you're asking.'" Pat shakes his head. "We operate on tight margins. That's why we no longer sponsor racers. There's no profit in it for a shop as small as ours."
(Pulitzer time) "So, why should people who don't know your family do business with you?"
"Good question." Pat thinks a bit. "We're pretty close to the national brand franchise stores and the corporate stores in pricing. Sometimes we're a bit lower."
He gets serious. "We're also your neighbors. We live, work and shop in the area. We care about the community and do our best to make sure we take care of anyone that walks through our door. Customer service is what we do here. I think we do it better than our competition."
I point to jars of honey on the counter. "I don't see that in the other stores."
Pat and Jeremy laugh. "That's Dad's hobby. We've been teasing him about it for years."
I buy a jar. (I know how to use honey! I've got a mead recipe in mind.) I'm also thinking there is a lot of stuff I occasionally need in this store besides bearings, hypoid gear oil and belts for the factory machines. Leather work gloves, bundles of cleaning rags, cleaning fluids (we use windshield cleaning fluid to clean the black powder
muzzle-loaders at the youth hunter program), various tools I can adapt to the factory's needs. I realize I could spend hours just nosing through the stock I can see. (On my fourth visit I notice a key rack and cutter, welding helmets and gear, and everything needed to assemble a log chain and I still haven't seen the machine shop, or much of the stacks behind the counter!)
As I'm leaving the shop I notice the orange and white trucks along one edge to the lot. Ducking back into the shop I ask if they have gotten into leasing or are the trucks on someone else's property?
"We started leasing U-Hauls two years ago."
"Are you making any money at it?" (Another Pulitzer question. I'm on a roll.)
Pat laughs. "We are, now that we've figured out what we're doing."
There's another thing about a family owned business, diversity. Where else around here can I rent a U-Haul, buy a jar of honey, factory tools and machine parts, and touch-up paint for my car all in one stop?
Taneytown Auto Parts Inc.
11 Franklin St
Taneytown, MD 21787
Read other articles by Jack Deatherage, Jr.