Archive for the ‘pop culture’ category

Western Auto: Home of the Western Flyer

September 28, 2016

If Western Auto ever sold anything actually related to automobiles, those products evidently evaded my prepubescent gaze. My eyes remained firmly fixed on the gleaming rows of Western Flyer bicycles, tricycles, wagons, sleds, and every other conceivable mode of chain, pedal and muscle-fueled transportation.

Can you imagine an 11-year-old kid today begging their parents to take them to the auto parts store on Saturday afternoon?

During its heyday in the 1950s and 60s, Western Auto stores stocked an astounding array of toys. You can imagine the thought process of Western Auto senior management: people with cars need car parts. People with cars also have kids. Kids love toys. Kids accompany parent to car parts store. Kids hold parent hostage. Deliciously diabolical, and eminently effective.

Few Western Auto products ignited the imagination more than the Western Flyer bicycle. Produced by multiple manufacturers, the Western Flyer became an iconic brand instantly familiar to anybody who kicked a kickstand  in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Today they are prized by collectors. I saw one on ebay recently for an eye-popping $5,000. (Note: numerous replica versions were made by another company in the 1990s, so there are a lot of non-genuine Western Flyer bikes around today.)

Western Auto was founded as a mail-order business in 1909 by George Pepperdine (namesake of Pepperdine University.) The first store opened in 1921, and at its peak more than 5,200 stores branded Western Auto were in business across the U.S., including company stores and associate retailers (licensees.) In Texas alone, it was a standard fixture on every town square. Western Auto stores were especially charming because associates evidently had broad discretion to structure their store to suit their clientele. So unlike today’s cookie-cutter franchises, every store had its own unique product offerings, and every store looked different on the inside and the outside.

Western Auto, based in Kansas City,  was sold to Beneficial Insurance Company in 1961 and went through several owners, including Sears, who in 1998 sold the remaining Western Auto assets to Advance Auto Parts.

Various stores still call themselves Western Auto, although the company as an entity is long gone.

The original Western Auto lives on in the memories of those who remember this store with fondness and yearn for the days when all it took to make life perfect was a gleaming Western Flyer bicycle or Western Jet Wagon.

Feel free to share your Western Auto memories in the comments section. Here’s a nostalgic take  found on the blogosphere from the daughter of a former employee.

westernjet_edited-1

Me and my Western Flyer Wagon in 1966