By Paul Tennant
The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.
If you encounter a folksy, gregarious woman behind the counter at Independent Tire & Auto Inc. and ask for the owner, she’ll smile and say, “You’re speaking to her.”
Mary Sullivan is a rarity, if not downright unique. There are numerous other tire shops in the Merrimack Valley and most if not all are run by men.
Sullivan has owned and operated Independent Tire & Auto for 15 years. No, she didn’t inherit the business from her father or husband. Her father died when she was 10 and she’s not married — but she is engaged.
Sullivan, 48, born and brought up in Lawrence and now living in Methuen, has worked her way up in the industry.
Fresh out of St. Mary’s High School, she was hired as a file clerk at Schlott Tire, a Lawrence company that’s no longer in business but used to serve customers all the way up to Maine.
One of the sisters at St. Mary’s arranged for her to get the job.
“You didn’t say no to the nuns,” she said with a laugh.
She was promoted to accounts receivable clerk and then began wholesaling tires to garages over the phone, she said.
Sullivan — she has no connection with the gigantic Sullivan Tire chain — credits Kurt Schlott, owner of Schlott Tire, with not only giving her a job, but teaching her the business.
“He taught me everything,” she said.
Schlott must have had plenty of confidence in Sullivan, because when he opened a shop in Lowell, he picked her to manage it.
All was going well, she said — until a chain bought out Schlott.
She and the new management, she said, did not see eye to eye.