If you own a vehicle that has broken down in Merced, there’s a pretty good chance the part used to fix it came from the 15th Street warehouse of 50-year-old TBA Auto Parts — Tires, Batteries and Accessories.
The business, opened in 1958, began as a one-man operation when it was opened by Bob William. But within a year, his son-in-law, Ed Keegan, joined William delivering parts from the back of a truck.
Back then, says Keegan, 69, they had no cash register or computers, and could find pretty much any part a customer needed without the aid of a book or computer.
Merced Sun-Star – SUN-STAR PHOTO BY LISA JAMES Nathan and Ed Keegan, father and son owners of TBA Auto Parts stand among the endless rows of auto parts which fill their Merced store. TBA, which has been in business for more than 50 years, also has stores in Turlock and Atwater.
“Spark plugs were all the same size,” said Keegan, referring to how things used to be.
Now the business, whose president is Keegan’s son, Nathan Keegan, 35, has three locations, 26 employees and does more than $3 million a year in business.
Once only a whole-saler to service stations, the company now sells mostly to repair shops.
But its customers also include cities, farmers and just about anyone else who needs a part for their automobile.
“We’ll sell to anybody who has a dollar,” joked Nathan Keegan.
On a recent afternoon, the front counter at their warehouse and store in Merced was manned by three middle-aged guys, as well as father and son. The group stood behind the counter looking warily out towards the street. Past the counter and the low ceilinged room, a three-building warehouse sat full, with aisles and aisles of parts.
The white-bearded Ed Keegan walked down the aisles as his son Nathan Keegan named off their products: brakes, ignition wires, master cylinders.
But their warehouses are more than just a repository of products — rubber belts of all kinds hang from the ceiling like limp, dead ducks — it literally is a chunk of their past.
In their third and oldest warehouse, the original front counter still stands, now covered in debris. The glass front doors have been painted over and in a far corner, old receipts fill an abandoned filing shelf. At the far end of the hot warehouse sits 50 gallon drums full of old starter motors and alternators.
Like these forgotten items, many things they used to do in-house are no longer economical. Ed Keegan says they rebuilt starters for almost 30 years here until it just became cheaper to buy them.
Today they may not rebuild starters, but they pride themselves on being able to find the most obscure parts for almost any vehicle — even if they have to get it from across the country, said Nathan Keegan.
The automobile industry may be in trouble, but the Keegans don’t see the demand for auto parts slackening any time soon.
Spark plug, anyone?