Couple rolling in customers It it has wheels, Hub Cap City owners have it covered

September 19, 1995|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,SUN STAFF

Dan Selke will sell the hubcaps off his own truck.

That's the guarantee he gives to scores of customers every day at Hub Cap City, his roadside shop on U.S. 1 in Elkridge. And if they don't want his truck's hubcaps, he has 85,000 other wheel parts to offer.

"There's always something here that you can't find anywhere else," Mr. Selke said, standing amid piles of parts stored in his shop's dimly lighted attic.

He holds up a dusty center cap emblazoned with a jaguar. "I got a man who's been looking for this for three weeks," he said. "Wait until he sees it."

Car lovers, antique car owners and victims of potholes and curbs they all seem to end up in Mr. Selke's shop, a converted gas station that appears from the road as though it was constructed entirely of hubcaps.

"Everybody takes pride in their car," he said. "When you get what they need to fix it, you get some awfully happy people riding out of here. It makes you feel good."

Mr. Selke offers trim rings, center caps, rims, wheel covers -- all of which most drivers just call hubcaps. Ford, Toyota, Mercedes, Honda, Chevrolet -- take your pick.

His stock comes from highway debris, junkyards, trade-ins and dealerships. The parts are cleaned, fixed and resold. Many look brand new, but some are virtually museum pieces, such as an 8 1/2 -inch Plymouth center cap dating to the 1940s.

Mr. Selke and his wife, Faye, started selling hubcaps from a trailer on a street corner in Guilford, near Columbia, about 13 years ago -- after a tire salesman gave them 58 used hubcaps that they cleaned up. Business began slowly, and skeptical friends wouldn't invest in the fledgling enterprise. But sales eventually picked up.

"We fell into it and liked it and just kept on," Mr. Selke said.

The couple has opened two other roadside hubcap businesses in Glen Burnie and Overlea in the past eight years. The exteriors of both buildings also are covered by hubcaps.

On slow afternoons, Hub Cap City workers sit on stools or sturdy tire rims and diagnose the cars that pass by. "He'll lose that hubcap in a week," Mr. Selke said.

By the time some of those same drivers turn into his small driveway, Bill Williams, Mrs. Selke's brother, often has the needed part already in hand.

Pull in, pick and pay. For most patrons it's as simple as that. Hub Cap City workers install the hubcaps as well. Many of the store's hubcaps, often found by the side of the road, run only $10 to $20 -- or just a fraction of their cost new. Mr. Selke dubs his operation "the McDonald's of hubcaps."

The couple said they've learned that business is best built by word of mouth.

That was the case with Robert Crosby of Baltimore. Mr. Crosby, 72, parked his white Lincoln Town Car in front. He only needed a wheel cover for a spare tire -- and he got it.

"I've been looking for a month," he said. "When I saw this place from the road, it looked like it had my needs."

Minutes later, Ofobuike Nneji, a Columbia cab driver, swerved his Ford Caprice out of U.S. 1 traffic into the lot. He was missing a right front hubcap.

He tried to negotiate the $10 price down to $7, but Mr. Selke wouldn't give in. He flipped through a manufacturer's booklet. The same part cost $67.25 new.

The shop's customers also include young drivers searching for a particularly hip look and sometimes nervous spouses averting a scene at home by secretly replacing a lost hubcap.

Hubcaps also save lives, Mr. Selke said. Without them, wheel centers can rust and the lug nuts that hold wheels on cars could loosen.

Hub Cap City even has a contract with state police and cab companies, two professions in which the parts often are knocked loose.

As long as new cars are produced each year, Mr. Selke said he's confident he'll be in business, adding: "The drivers and I need each other."

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