TIRE CHAINS ARE HOT COMMODITY

January 06, 2004 11:00 pm
TIME TO CHAIN UP: Wade Jones, assistant manager at Commercial Tire in La Grande, displays tire chains the store sells for use on a semi-truck. He said truckers have been stopping daily at the tire store to buy chains. (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).
TIME TO CHAIN UP: Wade Jones, assistant manager at Commercial Tire in La Grande, displays tire chains the store sells for use on a semi-truck. He said truckers have been stopping daily at the tire store to buy chains. (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).

By Bill Rautenstrauch

Observer Staff Writer

Tire chains: La Grande's hottest retail item during the cold, cold winter of 2003-04.

Auto parts stores and tire dealers throughout the city unanimously say they have had trouble keeping chains in stock since snowy, frigid weather hit the area just before Christmas.

"We sold more than you can imagine," said Wade Jones, assistant manager at Commercial Tire in La Grande.

"There was a point where there were two of us at the counter for five or six hours straight, selling nothing but tire chains. I've never seen anything like it."

Jones said the store exhausted its entire supply of chains shortly after the bad weather hit, and sent in an order for more.

That order, which arrived less than a week ago, is about half depleted.

"We sold another 135, 140 sets," Jones said.

He said most of the surge in tire chain business came from travelers passing through on Interstate 84.

"A lot of it was people needing to get over the (mountain) passes and not having chains," Jones said.

Kevin Kincade of the

La Grande Les Schwab said the store hasn't been able to keep tire chains on the shelf.

"We don't have any of the popular sizes left. As soon as we get them in, they're gone," he said. "We have placed and sold three orders in three weeks."

Kincade said that as a rule, tire chain sales slow to a trickle at Les Schwab by Jan. 1.

"I think the worst may be over. One thing was, all the bad weather hit right around the holidays, when there were a lot more people on the road," he said.

Carquest in downtown

La Grande also reported a run on chains.

"I've sold 30 pairs in the last week, and I've only got 10 or 12 pairs left," said Carquest's Jerry Baker.

Baker guessed that 50 percent of his tire chain sales were to Interstate 84 travelers.

"At least half have been to people needing chains to get over the passes," Baker said.

Though his supply hasn't completely dried up, Baker said there will be a delay if he has to order a size he doesn't have on hand.

"Our two manufacturers are in Portland, so it takes a couple of days," he said.

The run on tire chains would seem to point to a lack of preparedness on the part of motorists venturing into the mountains east and west of

La Grande.

Most are scrambling to buy chains for safety, and to meet legal requirements.

When the Oregon Department of Transportation's Condition A is in effect, motorists are required by law to carry tire chains or be equipped with traction tires.

That's almost any time snow and ice is on the roadway.