In the winter of 1979, a blizzard blew through the area, followed by a pothole breeding period of freeze and thaw that turned out to be a blessing for Tom and Paul Jackson, founders of Hubcap Heaven. Everywhere they turned, there was a hub cap laying on the side of the road so they picked them up, sold them from the Sams Carwash parking lot in Maryland, and their business took off.
Now Hubcap Heaven has three locations, including one on Richmond Highway in Alexandria.
We had collected so many of the hub caps, we just laid them out there, Tom Jackson said. The roads were full of pot holes, you couldnt cross that bridge [Woodrow Wilson] without losing a hub cap. There werent many dealers in hubcaps either. That was an exclusive business on its own, Jackson added.
The Jackson brothers opened their first Hubcap Heaven in Landover Hills, Md., and spread to Suitland, and then opened the Alexandria location in 1991.
The business is still good, but evolving.
Years ago, it was common to have around 300 types of hubcaps available, and a stack in the back room to be prepared for any orders that may come up. Car wheels have evolved to a one-piece rim with no hub cap, so Hubcap Heaven now specializes in rims, center caps that go in the middle of the rims, and whole tire-rim sets.
The glory days in the hubcap business was in the 80s and 90s, we just evolved with it, he added.
Julie Albright started with Hubcap Heaven as a part time employee in 1986, and has been a full time employee since 1992. She remembers the hubcaps. We used to have a pretty big pile in the back, the demand just isnt there for it, she said.
Albright does sell a bunch of center caps that attach to the modern-day rim, but can fall off easily.
There always seems to be a weather event that spurs activity at their stores, noted Jackson.
Talking on a rainy day in early May, he anticipates action the next day as a result of cars hitting curbs on the rain-slicked roads. It usually takes some weather event, he said.
Roads seem to be built better now than they were, so there are not as many gaping potholes as there once was.
The price of gas is affecting business too. He is seeing less and less of the SUVs in recent months, and more small car accessories. The Toyota Camry, which is available with a hub cap, is a big seller even today. Its always changing, he said.
Hubcaps have hit the internet too. Just as the Realtors all are linked with the multiple listing service, Jackson keeps in touch with junk yards, and they swap supply notes.