Written By Nancy Dalton
Robert Bookout said, “The only thing I ever wanted to do since I was a little boy, growing up in Etowah, was to open my own tire and lube shop. I can’t believe it has been 40 years now.”
While Robert was attending McMinn Central High School, he was in the DECA program (Distributive Education Club of America). His teacher, Larry Borden, had the students write as essay on their goal for the future. Robert wrote that he wanted to open his own service station. He was working at one after school at the time. Years later, that essay was used as an example for other students to work toward their goals and dreams in life.
Robert’s family & friends thought he was losing his mind when, at age 19, he quit his new promising job at Bowater to follow his dream and open his own business. He talked to his dad (Jim Bookout) about the service station in Etowah on 9th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. His father advised him to talk with Frank Hicks, who had previously ran the business for about 40 years. There were concerns about that location being in a residential area and making a go of it. Mr. Hicks’s advice was, “As long as you are honest and work hard, it will work for you.” He felt like Robert could make a go of it. A couple of weeks later, Robert, with the help of his brother, Tommy, opened the service station in October 1974. This was the same station Robert went to as a young boy to get a snack and a Coke. He would talk to customers waiting for their cars to be repaired.
Robert stayed at the 9th Street location for 17 years, then took over the Texaco gas station on Tennessee Avenue in 1991. He moved to the current location on Hwy 30 in 2004, where Bookout’s Tire & Lube has grown and diversified into a used car dealership and also a climate-controlled storage company.
If you even talk to a relative of Robert’s, you will know right away that at one time or another, they worked at Bookout’s Tire & Lube. The Bookouts have strong family values and work ethics. At any time you walk into the service station, you will be saying “Hi” to whichever family member is working there at that time.
Robert’s wife, Libby, reflects, “I have been so blessed to have been able to watch our business grow. I know that its success is because of Robert’s character, determination and his love for family and keeping them part of the business. Every generation started out working for Robert.”
Robert’s daughter, Courtney Bookout Marlar, remembers, “Dad always had a list of things to do if we were ever caught up. This included things such as washing and waxing the pumps, Coke machine and washing the outside of the building. My dad taught me a lot about business and personal finance, and also about building relationships with people. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to grow up working and learning by his side. My son is now on dad’s work list.”
Robert’s niece, Susan Bookout White, remembers, “Working for my uncle taught me to take pride in the little things, that no matter what the job is, it all contributes to making the business run, and every person’s job is important. The biggest thing working for Robert and being around the Tire & Lube taught me (and is still teaching me) is that, if you work hard enough to accomplish your dreams, you can make it happen.”
Dr. Paul Bookout, a project manager at NASA, added, “Working for Uncle Robert during my high school years and early college taught me many life lessons. From work ethics to dating, I remember many enlightening after work talks. He taught me about customer service and how important it is to do your best with whatever you undertake. Thank you, Uncle Robert.”
Angela Curtis Taylor shares her memories: “My first job was working for Uncle Robert back in 1984. I have had the pleasure of working with a lot of great people over the years, including several family members. Both my children have worked there. We have plenty of fun stories of the Tire & Lube when we all get together. I am grateful and blessed to be an employee at Bookout’s, and I’m excited about our future business opportunities as we continue to service the Etowah area for many years to come.” In 2011, Robert received the DPA’s Best of the Best award.
While neighborhood service stations and neighborhood businesses aren’t near as common as they once were, with big chains taking over, Robert shares his secret of success: “Basically, if you’re honest and provide good service, you can make it work. I feel there is still a necessity for neighborhood businesses as opposed to a big chain, because people want to know that their needs are going to be taken care of, especially people who know you and trust you.”