By MICAH HENRY
Whether it was a car or truck or some other vehicle, all types have passed through the bays of Pearson’s Automotive in the long tenure of brothers Raleigh and Coy Pearson.
The two brothers had about three years prior experience running a service station in Catawba County for a friend when they started out in business for themselves here in Taylorsville on December 18, 1967. That’s when they opened shop in the old Esso gas station across from Hotel Alexandria on East Main Avenue. Through two subsequent location changes, the brothers added more services and eventually grew the business into the auto service center which many local motorists rely on today.
Raleigh, 79, recalls that he and his brother operated the Esso station for about eight years (now called GK Food Mart).
Their first customer was a Volkswagen driver who bought $1.65 worth of gasoline.
It wasn’t easy in the early years. There was a lot of service station competition and the Esso station had been closed a while before the brothers reopened it.
“There wasn’t a nickel’s worth of business,” Raleigh recalled. “There were seven full-service stations, counting the car dealers, downtown when we started — one on every corner. It was hard.”
Answering calls for stranded motorists and tire repairs was part of their success. “Nobody ran road service, so we ran road service. That helped to build their business,” Raleigh noted.
The Esso station had two bays: one for lubrication and one for washing vehicles.
Coy, 75, explained that he has usually had the role of office manager, while Raleigh supervised the service work.
Initially, Raleigh and Coy ran the Esso station by themselves. Days were long, 6 a.m. to 12 midnight, 98 hours a week. Service work included light mechanic work, brake work, and oil changes, along with car washes.
Back then, most people preferred manual transmission cars, as automatics were considered too complicated for repairs, and many steered clear of air conditioning, which was just something else to eventually repair. Now, people seem to crave new gadgets and comfort options on their cars and trucks.
“I was brought up on flathead motors with carburetors,” said Raleigh. “I remember the first fuel injected car I saw was a 1967 Chevrolet with experimental fuel injection. It turned out to be the best thing, fuel injection.”
Both brothers recall the gas crunch of the early 1970s, when gasoline had to be rationed.
“I remember Kermit [Sipe] directed traffic,” Raleigh said. “They lined up the cars on Main Avenue Drive to keep traffic flowing on Main Avenue. We’d get a load of gas, it would only take 3 hours to pump it out. When we were close to running out, I’d put a sign on the back of the last car in line, to let people know not to keep lining up. But we would always save some for emergency vehicles.”
A desire to expand their services led them to buy out the boys who operated the Amoco in the West End of Taylorsville at the intersection of NC 16 and NC 90 (now a BP filling station owned by Quality Plus) in the mid-1970s.
The new location allowed the Pearsons to wash more vehicles, as it had two service bays, a wash bay, and a truck service bay.
Car washing was popular at the shop, perhaps too popular.
“One Saturday, we washed more than 30 cars and 20 road tractor trucks. By the time we got through paying our help and for the supplies, we didn’t make a nickel, so we gave it up,” Raleigh said.
Most of the station’s business included gasoline, tune ups, and oil changes, but the new shop allowed them to overhaul motors and change transmissions, too.
The aquisition of Jeep CJ-5 with a plow in front allowed Raleigh to offer snow plowing as another service for customers.
“On days it snowed, I’d leave at 6 a.m. and not come back until 2:00 or 3:00 that afternoon,” he remembered.
Wanting to expand the business further, Coy and Raleigh built their current location’s shop on NC 16 north of Taylorsville near the National Guard Armory and opened it in 1986. The shop has five bays and offers tires, tune ups, NC inspections, and general automotive repairs.
Hearing of an opportunity in the mini-storage field led the brothers to build Pearson’s Mini Storage, which opened in 1994 next to the garage.
At some point, Raleigh bought a 1972 Ford truck with a winch in the back. The Ford dealership here, Deal Motor Co., had a 1971 Ford F-350 truck with a Holmes 500 wrecker setup that had been in an earlier 1948 Ford truck, but the Holmes unit had been completely rebuilt and put in the ’71 truck. Deal Motor Co. and the Pearsons struck a trade deal and the Pearsons ended up with the 1971 Ford F-350 with the Holmes wrecker unit. The tow rig came in handy and Pearsons Automotive used to tow wrecks for the NC Highway Patrol for several years.
Nowadays, though, the easily recognizable blue Ford truck sits in front of the shop as a mascot.
Family has played a big role in Pearson’s Automotive, too. Coy’s son, Michael, worked for years at the shop. Now, Raleigh’s grandsons Ryan Pearson, 35, and Christopher Bruce, 40, have been handling most of the repairs the past few years and are carrying on the family business.
Mike Bruce began leasing Pearson’s starting July 1. Chris and Ryan will continue to provide customers with excellent customer service, according to Krystal Pearson Mace, Coy’s daughter.
“It’s been good to us. We ain’t made a fortune, but we’ve made a living,” Raleigh said.
And their work has made repeat customers of many Alexandrians.
Raleigh described one of many loyal customers: “One young lady called and said, ‘I won’t go anywhere else. I’m the fourth generation that’s traded with you!’”
Coy and Raleigh would like to thank all their loyal customers through the years.