After retiring last year, former owner Bob Nance of Bob’s Tire Center in Red Bluff, Calif., is far from retired. Nance still can’t stay away after nearly 55 years in the tire business, 30 of those in Red Bluff. He’s still proud to be an independent tire dealer and a part of what he believes to be an “honest business.”
Every day 73-year-old Nance visits the tire store, now run by his son, Lance, and spend time with the various critters living in the shop.
A cage with four parrots welcome customers, a few turtles and a bearded dragon are displayed under the glass counter, and a large tank holds a snapping turtle. But this is tame, compared to the animals Nance used to have in shop.
“I just always liked animals,” he says. “Everyone who comes in likes the animals. It’s a really good attraction to your store. I don’t know what it is about animals, but everybody loves them.”
Nance started working in the tire business at age 15 before opening his own shop in Simi Valley, Calif., at age 19. Without much formal education or the ability to read or write very well, Nance attributes his success to a lot of good help and keeping business simple.
“I opened up in a chicken ranch and all I did was pour a slab out front and I was in business. I even had a chicken that lived in that place,” he says.
As the business in Simi Valley grew to 15 franchise stores, the animals grew too. When the neighboring town of Thousand Oaks shut down a zoo, Nance went looking for an attraction. “About two hours later they dropped an elephant off at my place. I didn’t know what to do with it, but we became pretty good friends.”
Eventually the city made him get rid of the half-grown elephant named Dolly, but Nance wasn’t done with wild animals. Over the years Nance had llamas, emus, parrots, baby alligators and a baby elephant named Fluffy at the tire shop turned zoo in Simi Valley.
“The same people I bought Dolly from called me up and told me they got one in that they ordered a year prior and it’s just a baby,” Nance says. “A buddy of mine and I just picked it up and put it in a van and brought it to the tire store. I kept that one mobile and I kept it in a big van. That applied to the law so I was able to keep it.”
When Nance feared the Los Angeles area wasn’t safe for his seven children, he relocated to Red Bluff in 1985 and opened shop. In Red Bluff, Nance welcomed a tiger to his yard and a handful of monkeys outside the shop before California passed a law that banned owning a wild animal.
Still, Nance manages to keep the animals he can and enjoys the human customers as well, which he says are the best thing about being an independent tire dealer.
“I enjoy the customers. I have a really good rapport with all the customers and Red Bluff is a pretty small town. When I go to the store I know everybody in there and everybody says, ‘Hi, Bob.’”