Dateline: Mesopotamia, 3200 BC. It might have gone like this. There's a guy sitting on the ground. He's bored; it's hot. Maybe he's sleepy after a dinner of burnt goat and chickpeas. He looks down at a rock by his foot. He gives it a little nudge and it rolls a couple of inches. He's seen rocks rolling before, but this time something clicks. He dreams about circles that night. The next morning he takes a short straight log from the pile, puts it on the ground and rolls it back and forth with his foot. It moves easily. He calls his hunting buddy over to show him his invention. "What are you going to call it?' his friend asks. "I don't know," the guy says, "but it could come in handy."
On humanity's all-time highlight reel, the wheel is right up there with fire. At least that's what they think at Fetzer Tire, proudly serving Fairfield and its environs since 1973.
Located at 3651 Post Road, Fetzer Tire presents a no-frills look from the street. There are no plastic banners announcing super-duper, buy-one-get-one-free deals. It's where you go for tires (although they do attend to other running gear like brakes and shocks etc.).
Inside, the place is neat. Stacks of tires, hundreds of them, from floor to ceiling, occupy the space by the front windows. The service counter is free of the usual clutter one expects in a garage environment. No tools lying around, no to-go lunch containers and empty soda cans and absolutely no girlie calendars. This is a place of business.
Peter Fetzer, founder of the company is a serious-looking guy. Sporting a carefully trimmed beard, steely eyes and a purposeful expression, he's not a big one for idle chatter or dumb jokes. But get him started on tire technology and you'll learn more in 15 minutes than you knew in all your previous life experience.
Who knew an automobile tire was such a complicated piece of engineering? The recipe of ingredients that the tire is made of is called its compound. This can be adjusted in a million different ways to balance driving performance with longevity. Then there's rolling resistance, which affects mileage. And there's tread pattern and a multitude of other factors all of which must be considered to ascertain the right tire for any application. You know how you love that certain pair of shoes because they feel right, they're long lasting and they're comfortable? Tires are like that too, except you trust them with your life.
Fetzer Tire is a family business. Peter's son Howie was 2 years old when the store was opened in 1973 by his father and mother, Miki. Howie did his first day's work sweeping and cleaning the store when he was 13. He liked making a few bucks but he liked the work mostly because he was excited to be with his dad.
Eventually, Howie went off to college to study business. During this time, one of his two older brothers entered the family business with the idea of taking over some day. Meanwhile, Howie graduated with his degree and joined the corporate workforce only to discover that sitting behind a desk looking at a computer screen all day held little fascination for him. About this time, life dealt the family a tragic card. Howie's older brother was lost to cancer. Things would never be the same, but this is a strong family and after some time, they regrouped. Howie came home where he belonged, joined the business in 2001 and bought out his father in 2004.
Today, Howie is in charge but is assisted three days a week by Peter who enjoys coming in and helping with customers. After all, where else would he get to dispense his vast, encyclopedic knowledge to such rapt audiences? At work, Howie calls his father Peter to avoid confusion, but just outside the door, it switches automatically to Dad -- "Opa" to the grandkids.
The company prides itself on its customer service, expertise and a wide selection of quality tires and services. One way to judge the way a business is run is by the loyalty and longevity of its employees. Fetzer can boast associates with as much as 39 years on the job. And with health plans and profit sharing available to all, what's not to love?
After 37 years and 185,00 tire replacements (give or take), Fetzer Tire can claim to have served multiple generations of repeat customers. If the guy with the rock in the desert could see what he started, he'd be proud.
Editor's note: This is part of a series of articles by Downey featuring long-standing Fairfield and Southport businesses and organizations. If you have an idea for a story, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or (203) 255-4561, ext. 111.