Wilmington tire and auto shop Hughes Bros., founded in 1921, turns 100

Lots of things have changed in Wilmington through the years, and it seems the list gets longer every day.

Amid all that change, however, the towering, red-and-white canopy for Hughes Bros. tire and auto shop at 11th and Market streets has remained constant, and so has the business beneath it.

Hughes Bros., which opened back in 1921, is celebrating a century of serving the public this year, the latest of more than a dozen Wilmington businesses that can claim 100 or more years of longevity.

Hughes Bros. on Market Street, circa 2000.

“When you go in a place, you kind of want to see the same faces. That’s what’s kept us going,” said John Allen, who’s been the owner of Hughes Bros. since 1980. “We got grandkids of customers coming in now” whose parents and grandparents started taking their cars there decades ago.

Indeed, at least one Hughes Bros. employee “came with the building” when her father bought it 41 years ago, jokes John Allen’s daughter, Heather Allen, who does the books out of an upstairs office overlooking Market Street.

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Don Pierce and Mike Helms, who work directly with customers at the front desk, date their tenure at Hughes Bros. to the late 1980s. Helms said that, as far as he knows, Hughes Bros. is the oldest auto repair shop in North Carolina.

“This is our second home,” Heather Allen said, and the businesses’ 24 employees “are like our extended family.”

Inside, things appear to be much like they were when some of us (ahem) started going there more than 30 years ago. Hughes Bros. looks and feels like the unpretentious, old-school auto shop that it is.

Some of the reading material in the waiting room might not be from the current year, or decade. Aside from some banners advertising tires or posters for local sports teams (Hughes Bros. has long been a big booster of University of North Carolina Wilmington athletics), scant attention is paid to decor. It has what one might call a comfortably gritty, lived-and-worked-in feel.

Hughes Brothers Tires owner John Allen, right, works with longtime customer Harry Tuchmayer at the business in Wilmington, N.C., Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021. The Wilmington business celebrated their 100th anniversary earlier this year.

Safe to say Hughes Bros. doesn’t aspire to be a gleaming, spotless dealership-style destination. It’s just interested in getting you some tires or fixing your car.

Employees use computers to look up different types of tires and their prices, but invoices are still written out and filed by hand. Adhering to the old-school ways as much as they’re able, however, doesn’t appear to have hurt businesses much.

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