Local Biz: Tires of Silver Spring (est. 1950)

Ken Lubel
Photo Courtesy of Pete Tan

Please introduce yourself.

I’m Ken Lubel.

How did you end up in Silver Spring?

My father opened [Tires of Silver Spring] in 1950.

Tell me about Tires of Silver Spring.

My father was a queer duck. For some reason my father was interested in Central America. He somehow got to Cuba and some other places and at the same time learned about tires. He was in the army during the Second World War and came back to Washington. I’m not sure why to Washington because he was from Connecticut. He worked for a tire company downtown and decided he wanted to have his own and opened this place in ‘50. In ‘50 in Wheaton there were dirt roads, still. There was a lot of interesting stuff going on at that time. Crisfield’s opened in ‘45, we opened in ‘50. Ever hear of Montgomery Donuts? They started over there. In about ‘50 this bridge down here [the Metro tracks over Georgia] was a trestle, and they took it down and they made this underpass that you see now. Even back then the street was very wide. People used to park the slanted way.

Tires Silver Spring Pictures
Photo courtesy of Pete Tan

There’s pictures in that case behind some of the other pictures. When we first opened up here, he leased this building. In here there was a laundry. He opened up the tire store and did a lot of truck service. He’d go out on the road and fix flat tires for trucks. For some reason, the laundry moved. The donut shop was getting bigger; they were actually delivering back then. They moved into here, and this whole space was the donut shop. You can still see the burned ceiling if I take those tiles down. They were in here for about ten years while they built this building across the street, then they moved there where the Salon Zoma is. Then they got real big. They were selling to all the schools. Back then, kids could eat donuts. Now they can only eat McDonalds. The truth is amazing, isn’t it? You got the wife of the President of the United States won’t let anybody eat donuts or McDonalds, except her husband tells everyone they can smoke pot. Where’s the reality in all this? It’s a riot. Anyway, so [my father] opened this up, and he actually expanded later on. He had a big warehouse in another part of town and a couple more stores and eventually it just turned back into just this store. He died in ‘87 and I’ve been doing this since.

What do you love about Silver Spring?

Silver Spring is way bigger than most people realize. Silver Spring actually went all the way to Columbia, even though it was in another county, people would still call it Silver Spring. Silver Spring is huge. It encompasses all kinds of stuff. Wheaton was Silver Spring. Then they squashed it down. Just like the neighborhood across from Parkway Deli, that’s now “Chevy Chase”, and people’s homes went up fifteen grand. That’s just what we do. Silver Spring is a small area and it’s been up and down, up and down, but Silver Spring is a cozy little place.

If I had my druthers, I’d probably live in Murfreesboro. It’s like they say about New York. If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. This is the new New York, this type of area. To say it’s multi-ethnic is a joke. You don’t see two people the same race or anything at the same time. Everything’s here. You’ve got guys here from Babylonia, Brazil, and Bangkok all in the same time and the same hour. It’s what makes it so interesting. We’ve got everything here.

What do you dislike about Silver Spring?

I don’t like that Montgomery County disregards the lower half of Silver Spring, like we don’t exist. That’s a big deal. I don’t like that they take the stupid Thanksgiving Parade and take it up where we can’t see it. They dis us every year. They’ll say it’s because of the balloons. I say cowpucky. They can pick the balloons up after they go under the bridge. While the bands are changing the page on their music for the trumpeters they can have a guy that can hold the balloons up.

What would make Silver Spring a better place?

Silver Spring is a walkabout town. The Central Business District is only about 8 blocks. In New York City, there’s a subway every 7 blocks, so it’s not what you call a big walk. What would really make it a better place is if they made it easier to cross the metro tracks at any end of Silver Spring. With these new high rises they’re building up here, they should have built access over the tracks or under the tracks. That would really open the town up. You either gotta go under the tracks at the Metro station or you gotta come all the way up here. What they really should have done is have two train stops. They should have had one here next to the old train station and just had a promenade that ran all the way down to the other station.

There’s a divide and it’s bad. It shouldn’t be there. They could have made a 30, 40 or 50 foot walkway under the Metro tracks when they put the tracks in. It was beyond them. That was before Montgomery County wanted to control everything, so you could have got a real construction company to make it, unlike the Metro station that they f**cked up.

There’s always a lot of things to complain about. They’re building a new library. You know where the library’s going to be? The top three floors. Pyramid Atlantic is going to have the bottom two floors. None of us who have been around for a while know why they’re closing the old library in the first place. And there will be no parking in Silver Spring. That’s a good thing for those that want to be urbanites. Which they’re hurting by not doing some of these things that I’ve said to them. That’s why they’ve widened all the street intersections. They want Silver Spring to be a walking place. If they can figure out how to do that, they can cut the traffic off Georgia Avenue, so they don’t have all the commuter traffic going up and down Georgia Avenue. You have three main routes in Silver Spring. You have East West Highway, you have Georgia Avenue and you have 16th Street. You wonder where all the businesses are going to go that are up on 16th Street. They’re going to get thrown out of there because of the wonderful Purple Line. I’m sure there are people that tell you they can’t wait for it. There are a lot of people that don’t want it. But for people that like to be close knit and don’t want to stay home a lot and want a lot of things to do, there’s new stuff all the time. The park at Ellsworth has a skating rink inside it. I know it’s there. I haven’t been in it; I can’t skate. But these younger people seem to like what’s going on. There’s a lot of older people that like this kind of stuff, too.

Anything that I didn’t bring up, or anything that should be mentioned?

It’s funny. Look at Chuck Levin’s in Wheaton. I understand that they’re struggling. Maybe because all the older people are dying off. There’s nothing like that in Silver Spring. There’s no music store. There’s a sheet music store which is one of what I call The Original Five, and I’m sure there’s more. Original five being, old time original, same family owned, which would be Crisfield’s first, me second, and then in a short period of time you got Dale Music, Bell Flowers – he’s closed retail – and Atlantic Guns. All those were brought here to downtown to Silver Spring in like ‘52 or ‘53. That’s still same family owned. I’m sure there’s others that I don’t know about.

A lot of these questions should be asked to the younger people who have been living here for a year or three. There’s a lot of them. Why did they move to Silver Spring? Was it just for price? Cheaper than Bethesda? The people that are walking around Silver Spring, the people that live in the apartments, it’s inconvenient as hell for them to shop at Safeway and Giant. I live in Olney. I’ve got 5 grocery stores within 5 blocks. That’s what you call selection. They can’t do that. A lot of these newer kids don’t have cars. A lot don’t have automobiles and are using Zipcars and the new zip bicycles. I don’t know what the hell you call those things in the neighborhoods. I’ve only seen a couple places where they have them.

Tires Of Silver Spring Interior
Photo courtesy of Pete Tan
Pete Tan
A DC Native, people say I'm rude and abrasive; I say I'm passionate. I've been working in marketing since 2005. My brothers and I paid Geppi's rent through the 80s and 90s. My relief at an indoor wavepool never materializing in Silver Spring is balanced by my disappointment that City Place has dozens of shuttered storefronts. I love what you've done with your hair.

  • Debbie Cook

    This is the best kind of local in-depth post that I loved loved loved! This man has a lot of insight into old and NEW Silver Spring. Enjoyed reading this post.

    1. Pete Tan

      Thanks, Debbie! Glad you enjoyed it. We’ve got a lot more in store. We love your site, thesilverbee.com, and we would love to interview you some time to get your perspective on Silver Spring.

  • Patricia Anne Peratino Farrell Mackey

    Great article bringing back so many memories if the 50’s and 60’s. Since it’s been over 25 years since I was there sounds like I will hardly know it in October. Looking forward to Blair’s 50th reunion. I’ve got lists of so many of the old places to find and figure out what used to be where the new things are!

    1. Pete Tan

      Thanks, Patricia. We’re interested in doing a regular piece, Way Back Wednesday, where we show pictures of old locations in Silver Spring. If you happen to have any pictures or resources to point us to, we would appreciate it. We’re already talking to Jerry McCoy with the Silver Spring Historical Society.

  • Jen Rogers

    It might have helped this man’s business if he had talked about his business. Does he sell tires for domestic automobiles? Is he a full service tire shop? Purchase, install, balance? This article is a great history of SS article but does nothing to help this business. I did check yelp and he has a couple of bad reviews. Not unusual, but two saying the tires were installed wrong gives me pause.

    1. Pete Tan

      Thanks for your comments, Jen. Ken does sell tires for domestic automobile, and Tires of Silver Spring is a full service tire shop. Purchase, install, and balance can all be done at his business.

      The interview belonged to Ken. I would say, personally, that Ken is not a salesy kind of guy, and I didn’t expect a sales pitch from his interview. In fact, I hope that none of our interviews end up as sales pitches. Ken is, however, a really interesting person and has a great business with a rich history. I would strongly recommend that you drop by some time.

      Even if the interview didn’t convince you to visit Ken and Tires of Silver Spring, I hope that you found the historical bits of Silver Spring interesting. Thanks for reading!

      1. Jen Rogers

        Thanks! I really did enjoy the article and today’s profile, as well.

        1. Pete Tan

          Thanks for the kind words, Jen. Please let us know if there’s anything in Silver Spring that you think we should cover.

  • Steven Lubel

    Cow pucky ? Man kudos to whoever left that in the article. Ken is one of a kind, sorry to see the tire store close up after all those years.

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