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Free Service, Wexlers served Johnson City well for a century

Johnson City Press • May 23, 2018 at 7:00 AM

Arguably if any single local business brand has been identifiable with Johnson City’s history, it is Free Service Tire Company.

Founded by 22-year-old Sullivan County native Dan Wexler Sr. in June 1919, the tire and automotive service company was established in the historic East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad Depot (now home to Yee-Haw Brewing Co. and White Duck Taco) where Buffalo Street crossed the tracks in downtown Johnson City. A message on the company’s website describes how Free Service got its name:

The automobile was not very reliable in those days. Tires were bad, radiators often needed water, and the gasoline gauge had not yet been invented. The auto was constantly in need of service, "Free Service" as far as Dan Wexler was concerned. A fleet of blue and yellow motorcycles with sidecars containing air, water, and gasoline were dispatched to aid the stranded motorists whose vehicles had failed them. The only charge was for the gasoline and tire patches. The remainder was "free service," thus the beginning of Free Service Tire Company, a company whose business was based on service.

For nearly 99 years, the Wexler family continued to own and operate the business, expanding from downtown to new locations in north Johnson City and eventually into neighboring markets. Free Service now consists of 10 retail tire and service centers, along with commercial service centers, tire retreading centers and wholesale tire distribution centers.

Throughout the company’s history, the Wexlers have been committed to another type of free service — community involvement. Dan Wexler Sr., who died in 1983, was a founding member of the Johnson City Kiwanis Club, helped in the development of the University of Tennessee Alumni Council and was an active supporter of the Boy Scouts. He went on to serve as president of the local Chamber of Commerce in 1969. Louis Wexler Sr., who succeeded his father as Free Service’s principal businessman, was named to the Chamber’s Hall of Fame in 1997. Grandson and most recent Free Service president Louis Jr. is a current member of the Chamber’s board of directors. He was named to the regional Junior Achievement Hall of Fame in 2016.

This week, the family announced it had sold Free Service to a large national auto service chain, Monro, ending nearly a century of local ownership. The good news is that Monro plans to keep the Free Service name and has committed to maintaining most of the workforce.

While it’s not easy to see one of Johnson City’s oldest businesses leave local hands, three generations of Wexlers have served Johnson City admirably for 99 years. We wish the family the best in whatever the future holds.

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