Greg Moreau, manager at Paulin’s Tire & Auto Care in Portland, cleans off the bead of a studded snow tire that he is changing over for a customer Tuesday. Even with his two-man crew working 12-hour days, Moreau can squeeze in no more than 15 standard tire swaps a day between regular service appointments. (Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald)

Greg Moreau took a customer call as he popped a summer tire off its rim while a studded snow tire spun on a balancing machine behind him.

“I’m afraid it’s going to be at least 10 days before we can fit you in,” said Moreau, the manager of Paulin’s Tire & Auto Care on Congress Street in Portland.

Moreau mopped his brow, added another weight to the snow tire and listened patiently as the customer told him she needed snow tires before a Thanksgiving trip.

“I’d love to do it, ma’am,” Moreau said as he cleaned off a snow tire ready for mounting. “But everybody’s looking to swap right now. We’re all booked up.”

That’s because the two busiest times of the year for New England tire shops – the winter’s first snowstorm and Thanksgiving holiday travel – are happening at the same time across much of Maine. VIP Tire Shops in Portland is booking swap-out appointments out to Dec. 3 for customers who plan to wait at the shop for service. Sullivan Tire is offering a 10-day turnaround for customers willing to leave their car parked at the garage.

“It’s crazy,” Moreau said. “I’ve never seen it like this. It’s an early snow and Thanksgiving week and everybody’s freaking out.”

SOME CUSTOMERS TURNED AWAY

Some of those people were renting cars from the Enterprise Rent-A-Car outlet at the Portland International Jetport so they could leave their family vehicle at the shop to get snow tires, according to a local Enterprise representative who declined to give her name. Others who couldn’t find someone to put snow tires on their family vehicle were deciding to rent a heavier, snow-friendly car from Enterprise to make a long drive to visit out-of-state family, the representative said.

At Moreau’s shop, a standard tire swap takes about 45 minutes, he said. First, he takes the summer tires off the vehicle and rolls them over to a tire changing machine. He clamps one on, lets out the air, shoe horns the rubber tire from the metal rim, pops it off and then reverses the process to put on a snow tire. He spins the tire, adding weights if necessary to balance it and protect the car’s suspension from vibration, then repeats the process three more times before mounting the snow tires on the vehicle and moving on to the next car.

Even with his two-man crew working 12-hour days, Moreau can squeeze in no more than 15 swaps a day between regular service appointments. On Monday, he fielded 83 phone calls from customers vying for one of those 15 daily appointments. About half of them wanted a swap, which at Paulin’s runs $59.99, while other callers offered to buy new tires if Moreau would just put them on now. He had to turn away five walk-ins Tuesday.

‘SO, YEAH, WE WORK LONG HOURS’

For those willing to wait all day, Don Foshay’s Discount Tire and Alignment on Main Street in South Portland was still offering same-day swaps Tuesday. People started lining up at 7 a.m., a half-hour before the independent service shop opens, to drop off their car for the day, said Assistant Manager Charlie Salvesky. He is unable to guarantee what time of the day or night customers will be able to pick up their vehicle, but the 15-man crew can change over the tires on 80 to 90 cars a day.

“We take in as many cars as we can,” Salvesky said. “We do service work, but we’re a tire company. It’s the busiest time of the year for us. We do half our annual business right now, during the time between a first snow and the holidays. So, yeah, we work long hours, we feed our guys a dozen Amato’s Italian subs or pizzas for lunch to fuel them up and we work as late as we have to in order to finish each and every last car on the same day.”

Michael Berube of Denmark brought his Jeep Wrangler into Foshay’s at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday. He had called the day before to order the unique tires that are needed for his vehicle, which has small rims but big tires. A longtime Foshay’s customer, he was prepared for a long wait, bringing his laptop so he could work from their office. He was still working, and waiting, three hours after his arrival.

“This is what you do when you live in Maine,” Berube said, shrugging. “You plan ahead. If you don’t plan ahead, you wait. But you stay busy while you wait.”

Penelope Overton can be contacted at 791-6463 or at:

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