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Knight auto closes shop after 54-year run (MO)


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Knight041420.thumb.jpg.1bb69cf989df29e4e4dfff60a329bae1.jpg

Nancy, Eddie, Mickey and Bill Knight - 1994

 

After more than 50 years in business, Knight Auto Care Center closed its doors Friday for the last time.

Owners Eddie and Nancy Knight are retiring – a little sooner than planned – and hope to sell the business to someone as dedicated to serving their customers as they have been over the years.

 

The Knights had planned to retire in June. After notifying their employees of that decision, some have moved on to other jobs. They were a little shorthanded, and with the pandemic going on, business is slow. Closing now will give their remaining employees a chance to find other good jobs, Nancy Knight said.

 

“We’re just in a position where we’re able to close, and at our age, we just want to go on and open another chapter in our lives and get on with it,” she said. “This might sell next week and it might not sell for who knows how long.”

 

Leaving the customers who have come to rely on them is difficult.

 

“You hate to close up and not have it sold to someone that can take over for your customers,” Nancy said. Eddie agreed.

 

“That’s the worst part of it,” he said.

 

Nancy called it “the biggest regret we have actually. We’ve kind of done it all of a sudden here, but most of them understand.”

 

Eddie added, “This (pandemic) had kind of accelerated our putting it down.”

 

It all started in 1966, when boyhood friends Bill Knight and Jack Maher left Heavin Motors and struck out on their own, renting a Quonset hut on Water Street from Hermet Muegge to open Knight & Maher, a two-man auto repair shop. A year later they purchased the property and opened a parts store in the building in front of their shop. Maher ran K&M Auto Parts and Knight ran the repair shop.

 

Wrecker service was added in 1968 and 15-year-old Eddie, Bill’s son, was old enough to work at the parts store and go on wrecker calls.

 

“When I got mad at my dad I’d quit for three or four months and go work at a station,” Eddie laughed. “I did that a couple, two or three times.”

 

Eddie graduated from Salem High School in 1971 and married the former Nancy Arnett in August. He was working full-time for his father by that time. Bill’s partner, Jack Maher, was stricken with cancer and died in 1972, leaving Bill to carry on. After his death, Bill’s wife Mickey pitched in and helped with the bookwork.

 

Bill Knight decided to go into the used car business in 1972, but the lot was small. In 1977 a deal was struck to buy the adjoining property, which became the auto sales lot and parking for the wreckers.

 

Many years later, it became the site of the new Knight Auto Care building. In 1979, an addition was built on the parts store building that included a dedicated auto sales office.

 

By 1989, Bill and Mickey were ready to retire and sold their interest to Eddie and Nancy. Over the next few years, the parts store was remodeled, a new phone system added and computers were installed. In 1993, Car Quest Auto Parts became the supplier and the whole store and signage got a makeover.

 

Soon Eddie was approached by Delano Oil of St. James about putting in a Fast Lube store. Plans were soon underway to build a two-bay lube and eight-bay general repair shop. The new location opened in September 1996.

 

Bill, who had always helped out after his retirement and worked hard in helping with the move to the new building, was diagnosed with cancer later that fall and died Jan. 10, 1997.

 

“He worried if we’d bit off more than we could chew,” Nancy said. “This was quite an investment.”

 

Eddie dedicated himself to making the new Fast Lube a success. The decision was made in 2004 to close the Car Quest parts store and rent the building out. In 2007, the Knights sold most of their tow trucks to Whitaker’s Towing and gave up their AAA affiliation.

 

Nancy remembers the towing service days.

 

“It was pretty exciting sometimes, pretty fun sometimes, pretty tragic sometimes,” she said. “I don’t miss that either, the 24-hour business.

 

“We’ve kind of backpedaled. We built up all these new things for years, and now we’re going back the other way. We just can’t handle it all anymore.”

 

At one time they employed 12 or 13 people when the parts store and wrecker service were still going. That number dropped to seven in recent years.

 

Eddie said the auto repair business is nothing like it was in the old days.

 

“Everything’s changed,” he said. “It used to be all handwritten tickets and manuals and now everything’s all electronic and computerized. You’ve got to have a lot of information to keep up on these cars because we work on all makes and models.”

 

After so many years in the business, he admitted it will be hard to adjust to retirement.

 

“I’ll probably try to come to work anyway,” he laughed.

 

“He’s been down here at 7 o’clock every morning pretty much his whole life,” Nancy said. “He’s put in some hours. But I think he’s always really enjoyed it up until probably the last couple of years.”

 

Eddie said he’ll miss his customers. His clientele has changed over the years.

 

“A lot of them have come and gone, passed away,” he said.

 

“You’ve got your faithful customers that are always a joy to work with just like any other place you work with the public,” Nancy said.

 

As for their retirement plans, they bought a motorhome about a year ago and eventually plan on traveling.

 

“Until this (pandemic) is over we’re just going to enjoy staying put,” she said. “Enjoy our yard and our house.”

 

They’re now at a point with the business where they would have to upgrade to stay ahead of the curve. “We had to either get in or get out, and if we stayed ahead of everything like we always have, we’d have to go spend some money and we’d rather spend it running around,” Nancy said.

 

Eddie pointed out that there aren’t as many people going into the automotive field as there used to be. That will likely turn around with the growing emphasis on trade schools, but that’s years down the road, Nancy said.

 

Right now, they’re looking forward to retirement after decades serving the Salem community.

 

“We just want people to know how much we’ve appreciated their business over the years,” she said.

 

“We’re a little sad, but it’s just time.”

 

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