Santiam Supply auto parts changes hands after 61 years

Scott Swanson

After 61 years, Sweet Home’s oldest family-owned business has been sold.

Santiam Supply parts store, at the corner of 12th Avenue and Main Street, has been purchased by O’Reilly Auto Parts, which opened for business Monday morning, Dec. 5.

Santiam Supply has been doing business in Sweet Home since it was founded in 1945, in the building it is located in now, by Mary and Orval Lewis, said their son, Jim Lewis, who has run the parts store since 1970. He said his mother was the active partner in the business in the early years and he took over the store after graduating from Brigham Young University and opting for the family business instead of a teaching career. His brother Bill, 74, a local attorney and judge, has been a silent partner over the years.

Lewis said he plans to continue as manager and that he expects the store to continue to maintain its down-home feel.

“This is a more traditional store,” he said, adding that a company representative told him the Sweet Home store would be “more like stores in Missouri and Arkansas.” Lewis noted that O’Reilly has purchased the CKS chain, which included the Lebanon Schucks store, and that many of those stores “are more laid out.”

He said that when he asked about that, the representative “kind of laughed and said, ‘we have more traditional stores in the Midwest.’”

O’Reilly Auto Parts is based in Springfield, Mo., where it was founded by auto parts salesman Charles Francis O’Reilly in 1957. Since 2000 the company has acquired several other auto parts chains, including CKS, which operated the Schucks store in Lebanon, and has some 3,500 stores in 39 states, making it one of the three largest auto parts chains in the country.

“We have grown and been successful based on a business philosophy of friendly and efficient service to our customers. We hope to earn the confidence and continued business of the Santiam Supply customers and additional Sweet Home patrons on that basis,” said O’Reilly president Ted Wise in a statement.

Lewis said he was contacted by O’Reilly representatives last spring and, after extended talks over the summer, decided to sell on Oct. 1.

According to both a statement from O’Reilly and Lewis, current Santiam Supply employees Steve Whitlow, Robert Gardner and Bill Lynn will continue at the store. Inventory of the store started Monday, the statement said.

“Once the inventory is complete, we will begin the inventory lift and will have to temporarily close,” the statement said. The purpose of the closure was to install new shelving, install new computers and begin to restock hard parts and commodities such as oils and antifreezes, it said.

“Our goal is to have the store open for professional customers on Wednesday, Dec. 7,” the statement said.

Lewis said the store will continue to stock parts for logging equipment, which has made it a popular stop for local heavy-equipment operators. He said he couldn’t talk about how prices will be affected by the change from the current CarQuest brand in which the store specializes.

“They want to do better in the retail market,” he said. “They want to hold the industrial logging market also. We’re holding the heavy-duty lines also.

“They’re going to put a bigger inventory in, but a lot of the lines are going to be the same,” he said. “These are good-quality people. They seem to be pretty well sticking to what they say.”

He said he did not know how store hours would be affected. Currently, the store is closed on Sundays, but Lewis said he didn’t know whether O’Reilly’s would open on that day.

The store phone number will remain (541) 367-2115.

Lewis said the change comes at a good time.

“I’m 68,” he said. “I’m not a young guy now.”