Snow tires have been selling fast since the first few snowflakes dusted the central Kenai Peninsula last week.
But when the ground turned white Tuesday, the phones at area retailers were so busy it was difficult even to get through, let alone schedule an appointment.
"It's like a mad house," said David Mebius, manager of the Penske Auto Center at Kmart in Kenai. "It got really busy today. We filled our appointment book for a week. We're booked full until next Thursday."
That is normal for the first snowy day in fall, he said, as did other central peninsula retailers.
"I've already run probably 50 tickets, and I have probably 50 more on the counter," Jerry Wortham, owner of Alyeska Sales & Service, said about noon. "This would be my biggest day of the year. We do probably 12 percent of our winter tire sales on a big day like this."
Gregory Sanger, owner of Greg's Tire Service in Nikiski, never stopped changing tires while he talked to a reporter.
"Tire sales are good. Change-overs are good. Everything is good," he said. "I'm guessing this will be the start of our busiest week of the year. Everyone waits for the first snow. Then you're swamped with calls. Then you wait for the day when the compressor never shuts off. Then, it's just go, go, go."
Tire dealers also have been busier than usual anyway since the recall of certain Firestone tires.
"I've seen more demand the last couple of months," Wortham said. "We've probably sold twice as many tires as usual. Those were replacements for Firestone tires."
Mebius said Firestone's problems have boosted Penske sales, but more so in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau than in Kenai. When Firestone offered to replace the recalled tires or reimburse owners for replacements bought from other retailers, many people opted for snow tires, Mebius said. Now, there is a shortage of some affected sizes.
"A lot of people got studded tires for free rather than get Firestone tires," he said. "The 235-75-15s are bought out."
Workers at Glacier Tire Center said they have gotten a flood of calls for studded tires but have had trouble obtaining stock to meet the demand.
"My supplier has a backlog of tires that are out being studded," said Russ Phipps, parts manager for Glacier Tire. "Everyone is behind."
That could result from the Firestone recall, he said.
"The Firestone recall is affecting everything," he said. "Imagine, all of a sudden you've got umpteen tires you have to replace on all these rigs. It backs everything up. Its affecting that size of tire and affecting tires close to that size. We've sold a bunch of studded tires, but we've depleted the majority of our studded stock."
When a van-load arrives, Phipps said, it sells so quickly that he does not even have time to put tires on the floor.
Meanwhile, no one answered the phones Tuesday at Alaska Tire Warehouse on Kalifornsky Beach Road or in Homer. A sign on the door at the K-Beach store said it was temporarily closed. Other central peninsula retailers said the apparent loss of a competitor seemed to contribute to booming business at their stores.
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