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DeKalb tire business closes after 42 years

Vietnam vet shares local legacy of Illini Tire Co.

DeKALB – A notable DeKalb business is shutting its doors after 42 years of service.

For Jim and Norma Anderson, running Illini Tire Co., 1031 W. Lincoln Highway, has been a family-focused adventure.

The husband-and-wife duo, co-owners and DeKalb natives, have been operating the tire business since 1976, after Jim, 74, returned from a stint in the Marine Corps, during which he served in Vietnam.

“I went to DeKalb High School and before I graduated, I figured I knew everything already, so I joined the Marine Corps,” Jim said. “Lo and behold, I didn’t know everything.” He said Vietnam was “the only bad thing” about his Marine Corps experience.

When he returned to DeKalb, Norma, 71, had finished a degree in home economics at Northern Illinois University, and Jim worked for an old gas station on Seventh Street and Lincoln Highway.

Jim noticed the building at 1031 W. Lincoln Highway was vacated, and got in touch with Bill Halverson, who owned the it.

“I was looking for a place to start a tire store,” Jim said. “Three weeks later, [Halverson] called me up and said if I wanted [the space], it was mine.”

The Andersons have rented the space for Illini Tire since its inception on “just a handshake,” said Jim, speaking fondly of his longtime landlords, Bill and David Halverson.

During the next four decades, Norma worked as the bookkeeper for Illini Tire, while Jim ran the sales side of the business. Their son Spencer also worked in the shop while he attended DeKalb High School, and in the summer months during college. On Nov. 27, Jim and Norma will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

During the early years of the business, Illini Tire offered big-truck service.

“We used to have semi trucks in here all the time, before the property next door was sold,” Jim said. Because of the property sale, Illini’s parking lot was downsized, and the business evolved into strictly retail and some wholesale, Jim said.

Illini Tire offered auto repair service in conjunction with selling used and new tires from notable retailers such as Michelin, Goodyear, BFGoodrich and more. Auto repairs included brake and electrical service, among others.

Jim credits his store’s multidecade success to the team he and Norma gathered around them, including Jon Jones, his colleague who ran the store when Jim was diagnosed with cancer.

“[Jones] ran the shop for almost three and a half years when I was down,” Jim said. “We’ve had a number of really super employees,” he added.

Though Illini Tire officially closed its doors to customers on Saturday, Jim is not yet ready to hang up his hat.

He will be going to work for Barb City Automotive, 1150 S. Fourth St., for the foreseeable future, and says he looks forward to seeing more smiling customers.

“What has made me last as long as I did? No. 1: tell the truth, whether its good for you or bad for you,” he said.

Jim also credits his faith as leading him far in business, and said he feels confident it’s “time to move on.”

“It’s worked out well, so I feel very fortunate,” he said.

The Andersons’ family has planned a little “re-tire-ment” celebration for them Nov. 10 – also fittingly the Marine Corps’ birthday – from 7 to 10 p.m. at Pizza Pro’s, 1205 W. Lincoln Highway in DeKalb, and invites the public to come share memories.

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