ROCKINGHAM — Although the team at Black’s Tire and Auto Service has been changing tires and oil for nearly two months, the shop was officially welcomed into the community Thursday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony by the Richmond County Chamber of Commerce.
“I’ve seen things come and go, and lots of changes,” said Chamber President Emily Tucker, who has been with the Chamber for 24 years. “This is a great addition to Richmond County and we’re proud to have you guys here.”
Black’s Tire opened on June 2, filling the gap left by the departure of Firestone, which closed on March 1 after being in Richmond Plaza for years.
Owner Ricky Benton said he was driving down the road one day when he got a call from Kenneth Robinette, chief operating officer C.F. Smith Property Group, who said he wanted a Black’s Tire to replace Firestone.
“I think it’s so important for people to trade in your bedroom communities,” Benton said.
The Rockingham location is one of the 92-year-old company’s nearly 50 retail stores across the Carolinas, from Morehead City to Hickory and Oxford to Myrtle Beach.
According to a pamphlet for the event, the company was started by W. Crowell Black in 1929 as Black’s Service Station in Whiteville.
Benton and his wife, Dianne, ran their own gas station and garage just to the west in Cerro Gordo from 1976 to 1981. That’s when Benton went to work at Black’s Tire.
Benton eventually bought the company and kept the name “out of respect for the Black family.”
“It’s all about family,” said Benton. “We are a family owned business.”
Manager Jeri Terry said she and her former Firestone team had become like a family, working closely together for several years prior to the closure. Six of the seven employees, including Terry, returned to work at Black’s Tire.
“I am super excited to have the opportunity that’s come to Rockingham and join this company that, thus far, has welcomed me and my team open-heartedly,” Terry said. “Anybody you run into at Black’s is willing to stop and lend a hand, regardless of what they’re doing.”
Richmond County Commissioner Andy Grooms and Rockingham City Councilwoman Denise Sullivan both thanked Neil Robinette, CEO C.F. Smith Property Group, which owns the shopping center, for helping bring Black’s to Rockingham.
“When we see doors close, we all think, ‘Oh, here we go again’ and you hear all these negative comments,” Sullivan said. “But you work hard to bring something back in.”
Since early 2020, several new businesses have opened in the plaza, including Firehouse Subs, Planet Fitness, Aspen Dental and Burke’s Outlet, the latter of which now occupies part of the retail space left by the corporate closing of J.C. Penney.
Sullivan also referenced the sign on the door that reads: “Through these doors pass the BEST people in the world … Our Customers.”
“We try our best to live by that motto each and every day when we wake up and we open that door,” said Cole Fraser, regional manager for Black’s Tire. “We want everybody to feel that they’re part of our family.”