Cape auto parts seller honored for work history

Thursday, October 2, 2003

In a first for a wholesale distributor, the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce has awarded its Commitment to Excellence Award to Auto Tire and Parts, an area business that has been putting quality auto parts into the hands of satisfied customers since 1909.

"It's a good representation of Cape Girardeau," said Chamber president and CEO John Mehner. "It's family oriented, has seen consistent growth and has contributed a lot to the community. They are just the cornerstone kind of family business that you want in your community."

The award was presented at the industry appreciation dinner Wednesday night at the Show Me Center.

"I think it's a nice tribute to all our long-term employees," said company president Greg Stroup, who accepted the award. "We have a number of employees who have worked with us for over 30 years. We're just very appreciative. We've built our reputation on our relationships between our employees and our customers."

This is the second year the award has been given to a business outside of the manufacturing sector. Last year, the award was given to the Cape Girardeau police and fire departments in a show of post-Sept. 11, 2001, appreciation.

Mehner said the award will be rotated between manufacturers, service providers and wholesale distributors. Mehner said the criteria are longevity, economic impact, industry leadership and community involvement.

"They've certainly shown longevity," Mehner said. "It has to be one of the longest continuing businesses in Cape Girardeau history."

Search for Model T parts

Auto Tire and Parts was started by Cape Girardeau resident Barett Cotner, who was looking for ways to get his hands on hard-to-find parts for his Model T Ford. Cotner opened the first store at the corner of Broadway and Spanish Street. The store relocated in 1920 to Middle Street, where it operated until the 1950s. Also in 1920, the store stopped selling tires, but the company's reputation was so widespread that the owner decided not to change the company's name.

The family-owned business, which was bought from Cotner by Pat Tlapek in 1948, has become a chain of 27 stores throughout Southeast Missouri, Southern Illinois and western Kentucky.

Auto Tire and Parts has more than 200 employees and an annual payroll of several million dollars.

Other criteria for the award were met in several ways, said Dana plant manager Larry Dillon, who was the emcee for the event. Dillon noted that Auto Tire and Parts helped raise more than $125,000 for the Red Cross after Sept. 11, 2001, and also supports several other charities.

The company leaders participate on several area boards and sponsor several youth groups, Dillon said.

Brad Jones, the Missouri director of the National Federation of Independent Business, was the keynote speaker. He told the crowd that the news about the economy isn't as bad as has been reported.

The second quarter growth was up 3 percent. The third and fourth quarter also look to be promising, he said.

"Inflation is under control, interest rates have been kind, and personal income is up 4 percent," Jones said. "Disposable income is up 9 percent between May and July. That isn't bad. There are reasons to be optimistic for the rest of the year and 2004."

Jones also said that the NFIB, which has 13,000 members in the state and 600,000 countrywide, will continue to fight for the interests of small business. He said that Gov. Bob Holden vetoed bills that would regulate rules proposed by state agencies as well as tort reform and other bills that would be beneficial to small business.

"But we'll be back next year," Jones said. "Our members don't pay dues for us to quit. We'll be back."

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