'We keep you on the road'
April 1, 2020
Editor's note: The coronavirus pandemic has changed our world in ways most of us could never have imagined. The Eastern New Mexico News is reflecting those changes in a series of stories and photos that will continue until the return of a relative normal.
You've wiped down the car-door handles and the steering wheel and you're ready to take that trip to the grocery store. Then you look down and see that one of your tires is flat.
It's a good thing tire stores are classified "essential" businesses in these bizarre COVID-19 days.
"We keep you on the road," Mirella Trevino, office manager of Forrest Tire in Clovis, said Monday afternoon. "For the truckers and whoever else needs us. That's why our business is essential - it's to keep you on the road and keep you going."
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham last week issued a stay-at-home order, but also included a list of essential businesses that could remain open, though limitations are in place.
"Tires are essential for your mom and dad needing to go to the grocery store. You need to go to the grocery store," L.C. Bloomer, manager of Discount Tire in Clovis said Monday. "We do a lot of flat repairs. We're not necessarily installing a lot of tires, but we do. We've had instances where nurses have needed tires, railroaders have needed tires going in and out of town, some of the electricians. As far as day-to-day customers, personal vehicles, we see a lot of flats from that, any kind of damages people are experiencing, because that's what we're here for. But you would be surprised actually how much of the railroad community and armed forces need tires right now to go where they're supposed to."
So it's business as usual for tire stores throughout the area. That is, business as usual in the sense that they are available for what customers need. As for the stores specifically, things are not at all usual.
Discount Tire normally has a lobby with people sitting in chairs along the wall, more chairs clustered by a window closer to the front. Not now, for the sake of social distancing. In fact, there is a sign at the front door reading PLEASE WAIT HERE, and another sign that begins, "In response to the recommended protocols for COVID-19 ..." and goes on to explain why people have to wait for a Discount Tire worker to greet them at the door.
"We'll come out and we meet you at the car," Bloomer said, "and do our safety inspection with distance."
A sign on the front door of Forrest Tire informs that the shop's temporary hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday. The sign goes on to state that Forrest's Brake and Alignment shop's temporary hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and adds that the shop is closed on Saturdays.
These kinds of signs have become a common part of our world in recent weeks. Who'd have thought it in January or February?
On the positive side, Forrest does still have plenty of hours for people who need to use them. "They're very appreciative that we're still here and open for business," Trevino said.
On the down side, the revamped schedule, though necessary for safety, is not all that good for the shop's economics.
"We've had to adjust," Trevino said. "It's two ways; it hit us hard, but we've got to do what we've got to do to keep it going. (There's been a) 10 percent cut in our income, our checks. And it hit our hours as well. Some of them (working at the shop) we had to send home; they would like to keep all of us here, but with everything that's going on, we had to cut hours as well."
Customers can still walk into Forrest's lobby, which is small enough to keep a potentially unhealthy number of people from gathering. But Forrest is taking the same precautions as everyone else.
"We try to keep clean," Trevino said, "do our best to keep everybody safe."
Trevino has a surgical mask hanging from a small college-style refrigerator behind her desk, and a box of rubber gloves underneath that desk.
Squeaky clean is the goal at Discount Tire as well.
"After every customer we help, we sanitize," Bloomer said. "And we ask our customers to pull their cars in (to the work area) now, something we used to not do, but we want to limit exposure. So we'll ask the customer to pull the car in, step out, and then when we're finished with the vehicle we'll ask them to pull it out, and we'll guide them out."
So, safety measures are being taken to keep an essential business, an essential part of life, available to customers.
And though the stores' availability remains, the amount of customers hasn't stayed quite the same.
"It seems like a lot of people are just staying home like they're supposed to," Bloomer said.