BY JOE CAMILLERI
(There) was something that was unique about Murray's through the mid 90s... if you think back, most auto parts does prior to that were dark, smoky, smelled like stale cigarettes and grease. Most of the merchandise was behind the counter, which was manned by Randy, Bobby, Bubba, and some old guy they called Squeaker. They all had dirty hands, grubby jeans, grunted, darted, and scratched a lot. There was a rack/wall of parts manuals, brown with age, pages all tattered, but if you knew what you needed, the guy behind the counter would spend 30 seconds flipping through the catalog, walk over to the shelf and go, 'yup, here ya go' or 'nope, don't have it, but I can order it and have it in two weeks.' Unless you were a 'car guy's buying parts was intimidating!
Then came Murray's. Clean, well-lit, everything out in the open, friendly uniformed staff with both men and women behind the counter and patrolling the aisles offering to help. Great selection of things other than car parts, like accessories, gadgets, seat covers, and the ever-so-trendy crown air fresheners. You had your choice of every major brand of oil, every brand of filter, and I'd say, at least when I worked there, parts on the shelf for 75% of the most common vehicles, and warehouse stock for about 20% more available overnight. In my opinion, it was the first auto parts store that wasn't intimidating its customers. Women weren't afraid to stop in and pick up parts for their husband, or ask about wiper blades and tire pumps. It was a very unintimidating way to buy stuff for your car.
Then the mega chains moved in... Auto Zone came, then Advance, then Pep Boys tried their hand, but weren't a good fit for the region, I think. Technology was a double edged sword... Made some things faster, but in the early 90s was only about 95%accurate on the 90% of the items that were loaded into the system. The computer was quick for common hard parts for common vehicles, but was no replacement for paper catalogs, and couldn't perform cross references between brands either. All the manuals could... Bring me the part number off the old part and I could almost always find a cross form it. Also, the paper manuals have info on other vehicles, like mowers, tractors, boats, chainsaws, weed whackers, snowblower, motorcycles, snowmobiles, four wheelers, jet skis, and many others. Trailer parts? We had a shelf full of them. Boat parts? Three shelves of the common distributor caps, plugs, wires, points, condensers, trailer wheel bearings and seals. Again, get me a number off the old one, and if ii didn't have it, I could usually get it in a couple days.
...Miss those days... used to like the challenge!