High rent forces 75-year-old Will County auto repair shop to shut down for good

Lucenta Tire closed its last location Wednesday

A 75-year-old business has shut its doors for the last time. Company officials said it was high rent that doomed them.

Since 1947, Lucenta Tire has sold tires and provided tire alignments, oil changes, front suspension and brake work to customers in the Joliet area, said Christine Lucenta, who was the office manager of the family-owned business.

Mostly, Lucenta Tire was known for its honesty, Lucenta said.

“If we told them they needed brakes, they trusted that was correct and not that we were trying to rip them off – that if they were going down the road, they’d be safe,” Lucenta said. “I feel bad for my customers. They keep asking me, ‘Where should I go?’ There’s good places out there. But finding something that does everything is kind of hard.”

The last remaining location in Channahon acquired new landlords Oct. 1, along with the promise of a higher rent, Lucenta said.

She said the family explored other locations and considered merging with another business.

However, with Lucenta’s father, John Lucenta Jr., needing to retire and “enjoy life,” and with the higher cost of doing business in 2022, the family decided to permanently close Lucenta Tire on Wednesday.

She said she’s both relieved and sad to see the business go, especially after weathering the pandemic.

“We never laid off during [COVID-19],” she said. “We slowed down, but we never had to lay off. But the [personal protective equipment] also helped with keeping us going.”

Lucenta Tire wasn’t alone in the struggle to meet rent increases.

The Giving Tree, located at 3016 S. State St. in Lockport, is being sold and will lose its lease July 1, Stephanie Ambrose, manager of development at Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Joliet, said in a May 15 Herald-News story.

Ambrose said the high cost of rent was concerning, and she hoped someone might offer Catholic Charities a reduced rent for its donation center. But, as of Friday, that hadn’t happened.

A 7-decade business was built from ‘one little gas station’

Christine Lucenta said her grandfather, John Lucenta Sr., opened Lucenta Tire on Chicago Street “in one little gas station” and then moved it to Washington Street in Joliet.

Her father, John Lucenta Jr., expanded the business, which had six locations at one time.

In addition to Washington Street, Lucenta Tire also was located on Plainfield Road and Dawes in Joliet, Cass and Briggs streets in Joliet, a warehouse on Laraway Road in Frankfort and on Municipal Drive in Channahon, Christine Lucenta said.

The Channahon location opened in 1993. The other branches closed over the years as their managers left, she said. Christine Lucenta handled bookkeeping at the other locations until she was transferred to the Channahon location in 2001, the first time she ever saw the building.

“I was like, ‘Where am I going?’ ” Christine Lucenta said.

One of the past managers at the Channahon location was Brad Forkner, who often brought his smoker to work and cooked lunch for his co-workers along with a few side dishes. Baked potatoes in the crockpot, baked beans with bacon and chocolate chip bars were favorites with his co-workers.

“It makes a nice incentive for the guys and builds the team spirit that keeps us happier to show up at work,” he said in a 2008 Herald-News story.

Although Christine Lucenta did office work and some cleaning for the family business in high school, she wasn’t making a lifelong career of it. She wanted to be a certified public accountant.

“And then I came back from winter break one time and never went back to college,” Christine Lucenta said. “At that point, it was more or less to help out my dad.”

Christine Lucenta stayed and worked at all locations over time, mostly in the warehouse, until it was sold in 2001, she said.

“I was doing the books, selling tires on the phone and I was loading trucks,” Christine Lucenta said. “I was doing everything.”

By the time Christine Lucenta went to work in Channahon, she also was subbing for managers at other locations when they went on vacation. Eventually, she became manager of the Channahon location, too, “until my dad stepped back in,” she said.

Unlike her father, Christine Lucenta isn’t planning to retire.

“My car payment won’t let me do that,” she said.

Then what is her next dream job?

“To be on the beach sipping cocktails,” Christine Lucenta said. “But that doesn’t pay anything.”