Company History

The company was born literally out of the trunk of a car loaded with car polish.  In 1956,  at age 17, Edwin G. Thirlby (company founder) drove around the area giving demonstrations and taking orders for car polish at the local gas stations.

After graduating high school, and marrying Beverly in 1958, Ed added wash mitts, sponges, car air fresheners, and other detail related products to his inventory.  At that time he also expanded his sales route to include a 70 mile radius of Traverse City.  All while attending the local community college and working at a local gas station.

In the winter of 1959 his sales route grew to become a full time job, forcing Ed to give up college.  He and Beverly bought a small house on 15th Street in Traverse City, moving out of their 27′ X 8′ mobile home.  The new house had a garage which Ed put right to use as a “warehouse”, storing tail pipes, mufflers, and various other automotive related items.  Beverly also became involved in the business at this time, looking up parts and delivering to the local gas stations.

Around 1963 Ed and Beverly opened their first “real” store located on Lake Street along the Boardman River in Traverse City.  The building had previously been used as a potato warehouse, and had no heat or indoor plumbing.  A cigar box for a cash register, Thirlby Automotive was born.

In 1965, with business growing, the company moved just down the street into an old hardware building. Operating from that location for the next seven years, until 1972, at which time the company moved into an old fruit canning factory on 8th Street in Traverse City  where it remains to this day as the location of the main store and corporate office.

Through out the next 25 years, Ed and Bev added five branch store locations through out Northern Michigan, with six more opened under the management of their son Edwin W. Thirlby (Eddie). Who took over total control of the operations of the company in 1991.

In retirement Ed enjoyed spending most of his time working in his machine shop at home: building, machining, and repairing the engines for the company boat racing team.www.ustitleseries.org (a sport Ed and his family have been a part of for many years) until his passing in 2017.  Beverly continues to make an occasional appearance around the office taking care of some payroll and keeping an eye on the “books” she started so many years earlier.

In this age of “big box stores” and huge corporate discount chain stores,  Thirlby Automotive is proud to remain a locally owned and family operated company.  Through hard work, sacrifice, and dedication, the company continues to grow and remains committed to excellence while serving  the communities of Northern Michigan.

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