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Charles Elmore thought he knew just the place to take his flat tire last week.
But when he rolled up in his limping purple Chevy SSR truck to Dykes Tire Co. on Main Street in Shallotte on Feb. 6, he got a surprise.
The business was no longer open.
Right after Christmas, store owners Ricky and Lisa Danford closed shop for good, attributing Dykes’ downfall to the faltering economy.
Elmore expressed disappointment as he sat on a bench in front of Dykes, waiting as his daughter Laura called for help on her cell phone.
“It’s a cornerstone of Shallotte,” Elmore said of the historic red-brick business and building dating back to the 1940s. “It’s been here as long as Shallotte has been here.”
No one is more disappointed than the Danfords, who are both devout ministers.
“It’s one of the hardest decisions we’ve ever had to make,” Lisa said Tuesday.
Dykes’ closure is the end of an era not just for Shallotte, but America, Ricky said.
Though the closure may have seemed sudden to customers, “like every other small business, they’ve been struggling for a while,” Lisa said. “There’s been a lot of them—not just us.”
The previous, longtime owner of the business was Dykes Hewett, a Shallotte fixture who, along with his dad, operated the business as Shady Park Esso, then Exxon, then finally Dykes Tires, for 56 years.
“Ricky was working for them before we started dating,” Lisa said, adding Hewett and his wife Lois gave them an opportunity to get into the business, which the Danfords purchased in 1996.
“Our children grew up there,” Lisa said of their two daughters who are now 23 and 14 years old.
“Dykes was a great man,” Ricky said of Hewett, who died in November 2008. “He was a good boss-man and a good friend and never met a stranger.”
Hewett’s dad, Delmas Hewett, started the business around 1941, Lisa said.
The old building has lots of character, she added, with tongue-and-groove walls on the inside. The front of the building was rebuilt after a driver blacked out on the afternoon of March 10, 2003, and crashed his truck into all three of Dykes’ former gas pumps, igniting a fire and collapsing the station’s awning roof.
There were no serious injuries, and the next day Dykes was back in business.
Shallotte artist Bunny Lauzon once did a collage painting of Dykes Tires, featuring Hewett in his trademark red socks, the historic brick building and its gas pumps, and Hewett’s dad’s old Esso hat. Lauzon still has prints of the painting commemorating the Shallotte icons, which were done by Jimmy Bellamy of Coastal Printing.
“[Dykes] posed for me,” recalled Lauzon, who also relied on photographs for her painting.
Dykes Tires also used to be the site of card games and was at one time used to store Shallotte fire trucks, the Danfords said.
“It was just small-business, personal and down-home,” Ricky said.
Now, the historic building and property are for sale.
Ricky recalls the time he and Hewett were discussing the business and its future.
“I think he was wondering if I was going to stay,” he recalled. “And I made this statement: ‘I like it there, I like working for him, as long as I can support my family,’ that I would stay there. And I have until now. That’s about the best way I can explain our situation.”
Since closing the business after the Christmas holidays, the Danfords said they’ve been stopped by loyal customers asking where they’ll be able to buy and align their tires and have their vehicles serviced and repaired.
“[They’re] wanting to know what to do and where to go,” Ricky said.
Fortunately, most of Dykes’ former employees have been able to find other jobs, the Danfords said.
As for their own future, “it’s uncertain at this point,” Ricky said. “We have not planned an exit. That was our life.”
“We’re just waiting on the Lord,” Lisa said.
Laura Lewis is a staff writer at the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.