Greg Ouellette, owner of Edmonds Auto Parts and Marine Supply, searches a database for parts. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Greg Ouellette, owner of Edmonds Auto Parts and Marine Supply, searches a database for parts. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

It’s as rare as a carburetor: an independent auto-parts store

Greg Ouellette still enjoys the business his family bought in 1971, but the future is not bright.

This is one of a series of Herald Business Journal stories about legacy businesses in Snohomish County.

EDMONDS — Years ago, just about every corner gas station had an auto repair shop.

A dozen or so of those shops feed an auto parts store, said Greg Ouellette, owner of Edmonds Auto Parts and Marine Supply.

But in recent years those repair shops have closed, along with the independent auto parts stores they once supported, Ouellette said.

As proof, Ouellette, 67, opens the pages of a 1972 phone book: it lists more than 40 auto parts stores between north King County and Skagit County.

Now there are two or three, at most, he said.

Ouellette’s father, Savere “Olie” Ouellette bought Edmonds Auto Parts at 636 Edmonds Way in 1971.

Automobiles have changed dramatically since then, and so have their owners. The under-50 set typically doesn’t work on them, Ouellette said.

Electronic fuel injection systems have replaced carburetors. Onboard computers and sensors monitor the engine, brakes and other systems.

The result?

Cars are more reliable, said Greg Ouellette.

But their complexity often deters the average do-it-yourselfer.

Still, there are hobbyists with old cars or hot rods who like to pop the hood or crawl under the frame.

And some folks are confident enough to change their own oil or top off the brake fluid.

The independent auto parts store has become as rare as a manual transmission. (Last year, 2 percent of passenger vehicles sold had a manual transmission, according to Edmunds.com.)

In recent years, internet sales have cut into Edmonds Auto Parts’ revenue.

Customers now buy after-market accessories, “like running boards for your truck or a rack for skis,” online, Ouellette said.

“Financially, it’s not very rewarding any more,” he said.

Greg Ouellette (left) and Travis Wood search for parts at Edmonds Auto Parts and Marine Supply. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Greg Ouellette (left) and Travis Wood search for parts at Edmonds Auto Parts and Marine Supply. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Still, he enjoys the people who stop in. “People come in and say, ‘We’re sure glad you’re here.’”

Customers also get a kick out of inspecting the store’s memorabilia, which include antique oil cans, a Pepsi bottle vending machine and a 1950s-era black and yellow gas pump. The last time it pumped gas, the price was 39 cents a gallon.

To boost business, Edmonds Auto Parts has begun stocking marine supplies.

Its machine shop specializes in rebuilding carburetors.

In the mid-1980s, car makers replaced carburetors with fuel injection systems to mix air and fuel.

But boats still use the mechanical devices. “Half of our rebuild business is now boat carburetors,” Ouellete said.

Edmonds Auto Parts and Marine Supply has been owned by the Ouellette family since 1971. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Edmonds Auto Parts and Marine Supply has been owned by the Ouellette family since 1971. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

People come into the store with a purpose. “They’re not here to browse,” he said.

“We sell a lot of antifreeze, a lot of oil products and windshield wipers — we even install them while people wait. We’ve got a rather large following, but you can’t make a living selling windshield wipers,” Ouellette said.

“Most of the items we sell are in the $10 to $40 range. More than that, and we can’t sell anything.”

In its heyday, Edmonds Auto Parts employed more than 10. Now there’s just three full-time employees.

When Ouellette, who purchased the business from his dad in 1977, retires, his kids won’t be taking the reins, he said.

“I told them to do something else.”

Janice Podsada; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods

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