Business

Wallgren retires after 50 years

For half a century, Bud Wallgren has been making sure Whidbey Island residents have safe tires to drive on.

But 50 years appear to be enough; he is getting out of the business and selling most of his tire stores to the Les Schwab company.

“I’ve been in this business for 50-plus years and it’s time for me to enjoy the fruits of my labors,” Wallgren said.

He owns eight tire centers, including Oak Harbor and Clinton on Whidbey Island, with the others in Skagit and Whatcom counties. He has been operating as a member store for Les Scwab since 1979.

Although he’s selling most of his business operations, nothing will change in his popular stores known for their cleanliness and friendly customer service.

“Our customers will not see any difference in the way the company is being run,” Wallgren said.

He first entered the tire business in 1955. That’s when he came to OK Tires in Oak Harbor to have a flat fixed and came out with a part-time job. That job eventually took more of his time. Then, in 1966, he bought the tire store when he was only 21 years old. When he took it over, he was the sole employee.

Over the years, what became Wallgren Tire Centers expanded to eight stores. Today he has 113 employees on his payroll. The modern Oak Harbor building was constructed in 2002.

Wallgren opened his second store in Bellingham in 1973. He said that was a challenging time because he didn’t have any experience in growing a business. But he learned quickly, and over the years he opened stores in Lynden, Clinton and Anacortes. He also owns an auto parts store located next to his Oak Harbor tire center.

He became a member store for Les Schwab in 1979 because OK Tires was going out of business and Wallgren needed a supplier.

He said he enjoyed the people he worked with and thrived on the independence that comes from owning one’s own business. Financial challenges and working with municipalities to get buildings constructed provided the most headaches over the years.

Wallgren decided not to sell all of his locations. He is still keeping the store in Lynden along with the Parts Plus auto parts store in Oak Harbor. His son, Rory, manages the Lynden tire center.

Wallgren originally moved to Oak Harbor in 1949. Back then there was only one four-way stoplight in the town. It was located at the intersection of what is now Midway Boulevard and Whidbey Avenue. Through the years he has seen Oak Harbor grow into a bustling city.

He has always been a leader on Whidbey Island. He spent nine years on the Island County Planning Commission, was active in the Greater Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, and he was a board member at Whidbey Island Bank for 16 years. While involved with the chamber, he served as president and earned Businessperson of the Year honors.

With the sale of most of his tire centers, Wallgren will have a bit more time on his hands. An avid outdoorsman, he hopes there will be more time for fishing and hunting. He and his wife, Mia, may also do a bit of traveling. He has two children, Rory and Carmel, and four grandchildren ages six to 24.

The selling of Wallgren Tire Centers isn’t the only change coming to the Oak Harbor store. Several employees who have decades of experience between them will retire soon. Office Manager Dee Breilein has been working for Wallgren for 29 years and General Manager Dick Eggen has been working for him for 38 years.

But customers will still see a familiar face, Kenny McGuire, managing the tire center in Oak Harbor when the Les Schwab ownership kicks in. McGuire graduated from Oak Harbor High School the same year as Wallgren’s daughter.

Wallgren himself graduated from OHHS and helped celebrate his class’s 50th reunion this summer.

McGuire has worked for Wallgren for years. He had previously managed the store in Clinton before coming to Oak Harbor approximately six years ago.

The sale of Wallgren Tire Centers will be complete by Jan. 2. The only physical change people may notice will be the removal of the Wallgren Tire Centers sign located above the main entrance on the store in Oak Harbor.

Community Events, April 2014

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