Tulare Historical Museum
C. Harold Ely (Hal) started Ely Auto Parts in 1935. Hal purchased the store in Coalinga and moved it to Tulare in 1936. The first location in Tulare was at 214. E. Inyo Ave, a former fish market. The sign used in the Ely Auto Parts Store today, originally belonged to the old fish market. The friendly store, has been owned and operated by three generations of the Ely family for 74 years, and now the fourth generation is working alongside mom and dad. Their longevity can be attributed to their warm and friendly, unique brand of personal service.
From the very beginning, Ely Auto Parts has worked hard to have only the best people in their employ. In 1935 when Hal was considering opening the business, he spoke highly of a young man, Otto Maly. Hal Ely said he would not open the store unless this mechanical genius, who could work on anything and was barely 17 years old, would come to work for him. Otto was employed with Hal Ely for several years and then enlisted in the Navy. After his discharge from the Navy in 1947, Otto again returned to work for Ely for several more years.
In the early years, Hal’s brother, Slim (Wilson Ely) worked in the business. Ron Hinman, (Wayne Hinman’s father), bookkeeper Esther Cesina, Hal’s children Quentin Ely and Patricia Ely Whitney also assisted in the business, along with Daniel Whitney and Harry Hill. Lester “Bud” Stiles was a counterman in 1948 and 1949. Today, some of the employees are counterpersons Lee Smith and Diane Olomos, and Manager Rick Villalobos.
During the late 40’s – early 50’s Hal owned 4 other stores. They were located in Porterville, Pixley, Lindsay and Corcoran. They were liquidated after a few years in business.
In 1953, the second Tulare location was purchased at 301 E. Inyo Ave. This is where Ely Auto Parts remained until 2005, when they moved to their new location at 215 E. Inyo Ave. Through the years, Ely has moved three times, all within eyesight of each former location.
Hal’s step-son, Richard Worley and Jill were married in 1965. Hal wanted to slow down, and Richard and Jill became second-generation owners. They ran the business until 2000.
Richard and Jill have two girls, Denyse and Rene. While at Cal State Long Beach, Denyse met Matt Weaver. They were married and Matt says he was imported into the business. Richard and Jill have been slowing down the last few years and are glad to have Matt and Denyse as third-generation owners now running the business. Richard was ecstatic about family taking over the business.
Denyse tells of walking from Tulare Union High School after school to the office. It was during her high school years she remembers working on the “Dusty Storage Racks.” From there she would find a part number, and hand count the inventory.
Ely Auto Parts doesn’t look like a mom-and-pop store anymore. They now highlight the NAPA name more than the Ely name. Some people might think they have sold out, but they have always been NAPA. They switched to highlighting the NAPA name because of the national advertising. They had to take advantage of the advertising NAPA does.
Because the industry has evolved and become more sophisticated, being an auto parts and a machine shop were no longer compatible. The hard decision was made in 2005, and the Weaver’s built a building that would be a bigger, friendlier, lobby and showroom for the do-it-yourself people.
Matt and Denyse have two children, the 4th generation, Mackeely 8; and Sullivan 6. Matt told me of when they were just babies in back packs and tummy carriers; when he would carry them around the store, while Denyse worked in the office. Sometimes Keely and Sully were sleeping and at times he said, they were reaching. Today Keely and Sully like to greet people at the door and even give tours of the store.