Free Service sold to national company after 99 years in Johnson City

Johnson City Press • Updated May 21, 2018 at 6:15 PM

One of Johnson City’s oldest businesses is changing hands just shy of its 100th anniversary.

Free Service Tire Company has been purchased by Monro, the nation’s largest independently owned and operated auto service chain. The Free Service name will not change, though, and most employees will be retained.

The details of the transaction were not disclosed.

“We have been approached by many companies over the years, but it wasn’t until Monro came along that we found the right fit for our customers, our employees and our company,” Free Service President Lewis P. Wexler Jr. said in a news release. “Monro has a tradition and business model much like ours.

“My grandfather started our company based on outstanding customer service. I am convinced that this tradition will continue under Monro’s ownership.”

Free Service was founded in 1919 and for decades occupied the old East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad Depot, now home to Yee-Haw Brewing Co. and White Duck Taco, at the corner of Buffalo Street and the tracks adjacent to what is now West State of Franklin Road.

The company has since established locations on North Roan Street and in Boones Creek and expanded into neighboring markets. Free Service operates 10 retail tire and service centers in Tennessee, including locations in Kingsport, Bristol, Morristown, Knoxville and Oak Ridge. It has two commercial service centers, two tire retreading centers and four wholesale tire distribution centers in Tennessee, Roanoke, Virginia, and Asheville, North Carolina.

Wexler, who is a third-generation leader of the company, expressed appreciation on behalf of the Wexler family to Free Service’s regional customers.

“It has been a privilege for us to serve our customers for almost 100 years, and we appreciate the many relationships that we have enjoyed,” Wexler said in the news release. “We couldn’t have been successful within the competitive tire and auto service business without our dedicated and skilled workforce. We salute them for their hard work and commitment.”

Wexler said Monro’s reputation for customer service and offer to retain more than 95 percent of the current employees were deciding factors in making the decision to sell. Monro will maintain the current Free Service Tire brands and maintain operations at the company’s current locations.

“We are confident that Free Service’s second century will be led by folks who offer the best tires and professional, courteous service,” Wexler said in the release.

With more than 1,200 retail and commercial centers in 27 states, Monro operates under a variety of auto service and retail tire brands. In 2017, Monro reported net sales of more than $1 billion.

The company was founded by Charles J. August in 1957, originally as a franchise of another company, Midas Muffler. Monro went public in 1991 (NASDAQ as MNRO).

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