“He's got a lot of freedom. Most people think that it's Randy's shop.”
Market Street Tire & Auto in downtown Chattanooga is due to change hands Wednesday and become a corporate Bridgestone/Firestone outlet.
It's a milestone for the business, which isn't an ordinary auto service shop — think of it more as community service.
That's what Krue Brock had in mind when he bought the shop in 2000 — to help boost the Southside where his family, which includes two U.S. senators, launched its fortune 110 years ago with the Brock Candy Co.
Idealism, not hard-nosed commerce, inspired Brock.
"This was when Southside was just starting that momentum," Brock said. "I never wanted to lose money. But profit has never been the biggest incentive."
"The idea of starting a place of service on the Southside was something that was really engaging to me," said Brock, who worked then as an adjunct professor at Covenant College on Lookout Mountain. "I realized if I don't own a business, I don't have much of a voice."
Brock's father owned the building, and instead of renewing the lease for the service shop that's been there since 1992, Krue bought it from its Knoxville-area owners. Brock has a certificate in auto repair, from when he temporarily dropped out of Vanderbilt University in his sophomore year and went to trade school.
Brock kept the repair shop's heart and soul, the husband-and-wife team of Randy and Stephanie Keith who, respectively, are in charge of auto repair and front counter.
"He's got a lot of freedom. Most people think that it's Randy's shop," Brock said.
Prices at the service station are low, Brock said, and the Keiths will go the extra mile to make things right for customers.
The homey waiting room, with comfortable if worn leather couches, doesn't have any TVs. That's intentional, Brock said, so customers from different socioeconomic backgrounds, from judges to Alton Park moms, can converse and get to know one another. The Keiths are an interracial couple, and the staff of seven is a mix of white and black employees.
"Diversity's really important to me," Brock said.
The building also has served as an informal incubator for Southside businesses.
"Niedlov's Bakery actually started there," Brock said. "He was a student of mine at Covenant."
Widgets & Stone design studio is another business that began in the space. The Chattanooga Football Club, the soccer team that Brock co-founded in 2009 that plays in Finley Stadium, has its headquarters there.
Brock will continue to own the building, and he expects the new corporate operators will keep the shop's "boutique" feel. Corporate will interview the current employees, Brock said, so they'll have chance to stay on once the shop reopens after remodeling.
The shop's manager wasn't sure which employees would stay on.
"Most of 'em been here forever," Keith said. "I'm the one who opened it. I opened the store in 1992."
Brock encouraged customers who like the Keiths to give them affirmation for the work they've done over the years by sending a letter or stopping by. Market Street Tire & Auto doesn't have a social media presence, he said, and uses an antiquated, although reliable, computer system.
Brock, who said he's selling the auto repair business because, "I think there is a season for everything," isn't sure what his next move will be.
"I'll keep looking for opportunities to serve," he said.
Bridgestone Corp. is the world's largest tire and rubber company. It develops, manufactures and markets Bridgestone, Firestone and associate brand tires.
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at email@example.com or www.facebook.com/MeetsForBusiness or twitter.com/meetfor business or 423-757-6651.