Florida Keys Business
Sunday, December 16, 2012
Fixin' flats
Banner Tire has been keeping the rubber on the road for 40 years

Arcadio "Rod" Rodriguez has been fixing flats, selling tires and repairing cars on North Roosevelt Boulevard since 1972.

It was 40 years ago this month when Rodriguez and his late brother bought the old Phillips 66 gas station at 2312 North Roosevelt Blvd.

A third-generation Conch, Rodriguez spent 10 years in Miami working for Firestone. He completed the tire company's training program, worked on thousands of cars and supervised tire shops on the mainland before deciding to open his own business in his island home.

"I came home in 1972 and decided to go out on my own," he said. "We bought this property from Phillips 66, and I knew that to be successful, a shop had to have a good lead mechanic, and my brother was excellent."

Banner Tire was part of a buying cooperative that had locations in St. Louis and throughout Florida, he said, and when the shop first opened, it was a Uni-Royal tire dealership.

"I still sell their tires today -- along with just about every other brand of tires available," Rodriguez said, gesturing behind him to the workshop bays, where the hydraulic "zip" of impact wrenches remove and replace lug nuts in seconds flat. "Today, I'm a certified direct Goodyear dealer -- have been for 25 years."

After Hurricane Wilma sent more than three feet of water into the shop in 2005, Rodriguez was forced to replace all his equipment and in doing so, he upgraded all the alignment machines, computers and installation systems to ensure the best fit and wear for new tires.

Banner Tire keeps 600 tires in stock at all times, and can order any size or style for any vehicle.

"If I don't have it, and you come in before 2:30 p.m., I can have your tires here the next morning," Rodriguez said, adding that his crew also does mechanical repairs on all types of vehicles.

At one point in the 1970s there was very little competition in the tire world, but times have changed and now other businesses offer tires, balance and alignment.

"Other places sell groceries, but they're not grocery stores," Rodriguez said with a smile. "But the business has changed a lot in 40 years."

Tire sales and installation once represented about 40 percent of his business, while mechanical repairs comprised 60 percent.

"Now it's 80 percent tires and 20 percent repairs, mainly because cars are built so much better today with better warranties. Look how many muffler and radiator shops you used to see that aren't there now, because they're not needed as much."

But tires will always wear, and despite the advances made in their manufacturing and materials, the rubber always meets the road, and eventually gives out. That's where Banner Tire comes in.

Rodriguez and his team will look on the computer to figure out which tires are on special that week to give customers the best prices.

Tires come in a variety of price ranges to fit all budgets, but safety is always a top priority for Rodriguez, he said.

He knows the majority of his customers personally, and he knows their lives and the lives of their families are riding on the tires he installs.

"That's why we'll only patch a flat tire; we don't plug tires," Rodriguez said. "It's not safe enough."

Proper air pressure is also key to both safety and endurance, he said.

"If I could get people to keep the right amount of air in their tires, they would get 25 percent better mileage out of them," he said.

Most jobs, whether repairs or replacements, are finished the same day at Banner Tire, and mechanics take each tire off and inspect the inside for damage before repairing it and reinstalling it, Rodriguez said.

But there are fewer jobs coming into the shop these days due to the boulevard construction.

"I'm down in the double digits, percentage-wise, since July 30, when they made the road one-way," Rodriguez said shaking his head. "I have no drive-up traffic anymore. I don't know if it can get any worse."

This time of year, Rodriguez said, people are going to Homestead or Miami for Christmas shopping.

"They used to come in before their trip, and say, 'Rod, I'm heading to the mainland, I need two new tires.'" Now, they just pass right by and decide to get the work done while they're up there," he said shaking his head.

Rodriguez said the drop in business is the worst he's seen in 40 years.

"The powers that be decided to keep it cheaper and do it all at once, but it's at the expense of the local businesses, instead of breaking it into smaller chunks," he said, also dreading the coming traffic change, when cars are routed to the lanes farthest away from the businesses.

"I don't even know if I'll be here by then," he said, gesturing the liquor store next door that recently went out of business. "And I don't know how long these other places can hang on."

mmiles@keysnews.com

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