Business Matters 2023
We’re taking a look at some of Centre County’s longest-running businesses, how they got there and the challenges they face now. Read more of our Business Matters series.
Greg Stoicheff sat with one leg crossed over the other as he spoke from a corner of his independent auto parts store, the same place he called home for two years after he opened the business.
The 73-year-old U.S. Army veteran lived in an office that measured 10 feet by 10 feet. The room’s statement piece was a foldout couch. It lacked pizazz, but that wasn’t a concern for someone who described himself as a man of simple needs.
“I had some great times with that. One night I left the door open and the state police came in. I’m laying there and I hear the door of the office open and I see there’s a flashlight that’s cast a shadow and I see a gun. I’m laying there thinking, ‘Oh my God.’ I made sure to look the door after that,” Stoicheff said with a laugh. “But I also caught a couple of burglars one night. That was fun. Stuff like that you can’t buy. You wouldn’t believe the stuff I’ve gotten into. It’s unbelievable.”
Stoicheff’s Auto Parts has been doing business from 2131 N. Atherton St. for a half-century. The family-owned shop opened in 1972, when the price of a new car sat at about $2,500 and a gallon of gas cost less than two quarters.
Stoicheff grew up in a family that operated an auto parts store in Mifflin County. He was drafted into the Army after high school, served in Vietnam as a combat medic and returned after 21 months of service.
He was 22 when he opened at the end of nowhere. Only a few of the buildings there today were there then.
“When I think back on what I could have bought for what, I could be a gazillionaire today if I’d had the money. Really, I could have bought from my property here all the way up to Tire Town for $80,000,” Stoicheff said. “… Would’ve been a pretty good return, but that’s happened up and down the street everywhere.”
At the same time North Atherton Street grew into one of the largest commercial corridors in Centre County, many independent auto parts stores went the way of the dinosaurs as national repair shops that have contracts with national parts suppliers blossomed.
“Take care of the customers you got and they’ll spread the word that you’re good, especially on the service end,” Stoicheff said without hesitation.
That means having the parts customers need, when they need them and at a competitive price.
When one customer asked for a fan belt and spark plugs for a 1943 Jeep, Stoicheff’s had them in stock. Another asked for a set of piston rings for a 1922 Buick. Stoicheff didn’t have those in stock, but knew exactly who to call to get them.
“Not many places you can do that,” Stoicheff said. “… A company that’s run by a computer will show they only sold one of them in two years, so they’re not going to stock it anymore. Well, that’s part of my edge competing against the big guys. I’ll stock it, I’ll sell it.”
Parts are the backbone of the business, but are just one piece of the formula. Stoicheff’s is also an independent U-Haul dealer and a service and repair garage. It also deals and services Husqvarna outdoor power equipment, along with small engines.
Stoicheff praised his late son, Tim, for helping the about 6,000-square-foot shop get into the lawn and garden industry.
The store has four employees, including Stoicheff’s son Nick. Lucy, a formerly stray cat that is now the business’ unofficial mascot, is not on the payroll.
Stoicheff hopes to continue running the store until he’s 85. If his plans come to fruition, that means Stoicheff will have spent about three-quarters of his life to that point running the store.
The plan is for Nick to take over.
“I have people come in here waving money at different times and I just (tell them), ‘Take a walk. I’m not interested.’ If I didn’t want to do what I’m doing, I’d have left long ago. I enjoy it, I have family that’s going to take it over. I’m going to walk away and die and it’s theirs and I don’t care and that’s fine. I’ve told them, ‘The minute I walk out the door, if you want to put out the for sale sign I don’t care. I really don’t. It’s your decision, not mine. I’m not deciding from the grave how you do your life.’ That’s the way my father was with us, that’s the way I’ll be with my kids.”
Customers and would-be buyers alike shouldn’t expect a for sale at the business anytime soon. Nick Stoicheff said his goal is to keep the business open until it turns 100, at which point he’d be 87.
“There’s no retiring at 60. I don’t see it happening. I feel like I’m following in the family footsteps. There’s no slowdown or stop with it. Does that stay that way? Who knows, but that’s something that I look forward to,” he said. “… I don’t want to be the guy that blows it.”
He later added: “If I can get to 100, awesome. How wild would that be?”