Lenoir's K&K Auto Parts store yields to changing times
In 1983, Ken Townsend had to be talked into buying a friend’s auto parts store on Morganton Boulevard.
This year, Townsend kind of had to talk himself into closing it.
Today the last parts in stock at K&K Auto Parts will be hauled out of the iconic black-and-white-checkered, curved-front building at 2322 Morganton Blvd. and carted away by a Winston-Salem man who bought the inventory last week.
But Townsend says the seeds for this day were sown in 2009, when Congress approved the Cash for Clunkers program that not only encouraged people to trade their old cars for new ones but required that the old ones be turned to scrap.
“That got rid of all those old ‘80s- and ’90s-model cars,” he said. His business dropped off 80 percent in a matter of weeks. “When he (President Obama) got rid of the old cars, then I was out of date.”
Just as Townsend is a mechanic from the era before computerized cars, his store was a repository for old, hard-to-find parts for a great many of those “clunkers.” Walking through his shop of partially emptied shelves and disturbed, decades-old dust, he pointed casually down to items on the end of one shelf: the brake pads for a 1969 Plymouth Volare. A few steps farther, he stooped to a bottom shelf and pulled out a larger, metal item wearing generations of dust: a dashboard radio for a 1950 Hudson. The spot where it sat on shelf was dust-free, the radio had been there so long.
“There’s some stuff here you aren’t gonna find anywhere. There’s some stuff been here 40 years,” he said.
The building housing the store was built in 1949 for a car dealership, he said, but he became acquainted with it when it was an auto parts store owned by Tim Icenhour. When asked how he first came to own the store, Townsend said, “I was a mechanic coming out here to buy parts, and one day I bought them all.”
The details he tells are not far off from that summary. He said Icenhour once asked him to stop by the shop and help out for a few days. One morning, Icenhour arrived dressed up, with his car packed, and announced he was going to Florida for a couple weeks and entrusting the shop to Townsend. When he returned from Florida, Icenhour announced he was selling the shop to Townsend.
“I said, ‘I can’t afford it,’ and he said, ‘You can’t afford not to.’” He said Icenhour made him a deal that’s all but unheard of now, a flat sales amount paid in interest-free, annual installments.
And from there everything coasted right along, until it crashed.
Some personal mementos in the shop he’ll keep, such as the shelf of trophies he and his son, Kevin (the other K in K&K), won on the local racing circuits, and the wall sign proclaiming his son’s division points championships.
Townsend isn’t exactly retiring. He and his wife, Grace, both 67, are converting the store to into a furniture thrift store and variety shop, with a little corner of automotive and lawnmower necessities for the regular customers who he expects will keep stopping buy for things such as batteries, hydraulic fluid and oil.
“We’re going to have quite a bit of furniture, hopefully,” he said. “We think we can make a little money doing this and not have to work all the time.”
The idea arose after his wife retired from Superior Veneer about five years ago, just as the auto parts business was about to fall off a cliff.
“This just started as a yard sale, and I got tired of her making quarters,” he said. “I hate to make a quarter when there’s a dollar to be made.”