These days are like most other work days for Zach Yonce: Get up early and arrive at Yonce Motor & Tire Company on Cherry Road in about 7 a.m. and be prepared to stay until 7 p.m. to get all the automotive work done – even though the official hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
It is something the 36-year-old Yonce has done, well, almost all of his life. He can’t remember not coming to the family’s Rock Hill, S.C.-based car repair shop, whether it be to play as a boy, work part-time as a teen or work full-time as an adult and family man.
But things changed starting earlier this month. His dad, Simmie, the man who taught him everything he knows about cars and could answer his questions, retired.
Simmie, 67, worked his final day on Jan. 29. He and his wife are retiring to a beach house they own in Oak Island, N.C., where Simmie can fish and relax.
It’s the second time the business has transferred from father to son. Simmie’s dad, Vasco, turned over the business to his son in 1975. Simmie turned over the business to Zach last year but stayed around to help. Now Zach is flying solo.
Over three generations the Yonce family has served hundreds of customers in Rock Hill and York County. For some, they don’t know where else to go. Some families have had their cars worked on there since Vasco started repairing them in the mid-1960s.
They know they can count on Yonce Motor to get their car ready for a vacation trip or make that emergency fix. The days before holidays are often the busiest for the business, as is the summer.
That’s when people used to load up the car for a two-week, “see the USA in a Chevrolet” vacation. Those cars were so big they could swallow up a family of four with all their luggage and still have lots of space for the cooler that held the beside-the-road lunch, tennis racquets, beach balls and golf bags.
It could have been different, though. Vasco was originally a railroad man, then a textile man and then, almost, a car-dealing man.
Vasco, said Simmie, was working on a train that ran between Columbia and Rock Hill. One day the train broke down, and Vasco got hired at the Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co. and stayed in Rock Hill.
Around 1940 Vasco purchased land near the intersection of Oakland Avenue and Cherry Road and started selling used cars. Around 1965 Volkswagen approached him about selling their cars. Simmie said his dad liked the idea, wanting to get out of the used-car business. The building on Cherry Road was readied for Volkswagens with a special front door wide enough to roll a “bug” into the showroom.
He was set to sign the deal, on what he expected to be a quick trip to Florida with his attorney. When the attorney looked over the deal, the numbers had changed, and Vasco backed out.
Back in Rock Hill he decided to open a car repair and tire business.
In 1975 he told Simmie he could either buy the business or find a new job, but he was leaving in December.
“I didn’t think he could do it,” Simmie said. But on Dec. 15 he again asked his son. Simmie said he would try to run the business for a year and see where he was.
“I started then and never left,” Simmie said last week.
Simmie said he took over because he liked working on cars. “Every time is different,” he said.
When he first started, cars were spacious and simple to maintain. Now cars are more electrical than mechanical.
He has mechanic stories he swears are true but that sound like urban legends. He says there was the day a lady brought in a car with a strange, soft, sporadic noise.
Simmie listened, opened the hood, reached into the fan shroud housing and pulled out a purring kitten.
Then there was the time a wrecker brought in a car. All of the engine’s belts had either shredded or come off. He put the car up on a lift and started pulling out the black strands of rubber. One strand didn’t feel right. He looked at it closer and almost had a heart attack. It was a four-foot black snake – thankfully dead.
“It scared me to death,” Simmie said.
When Zach took control last year, he brought the business into the social media age. He started a Facebook page and a Web page. Now people can make an appointment, and it comes directly to Zach’s cellphone.
Like his grandfather, Zach likes to interact with the customers. He also likes being his own boss.
Keeping those third-generation customers and finding new ones will be the challenge for Zach. Shops like Yonce Motor & Tire Company face intense competition from bigger, franchise retailers.
But Zach hopes his old – and new – customers will return because they will find what Yonce has always prided itself on: timely quality repairs and tire service.