Good Question: Is Weber Tires a Secret Society?

Andrea Behling visits Weber Tires in East Bristol to investigate its mysteriously unparalleled prices and services.
An assortment of people are gathered in front of Weber Tires. There are huge stacks of tires on the horizon by an Illuminati pyramid.

Illustration by Brian Ajhar

If it is, I think I’m in it now.

I left Madison on a Wednesday and headed down a lonely stretch of County Road V to the unincorporated community of East Bristol, just outside Sun Prairie. I pulled into Weber Tires Inc. just after noon and the lot was already full. I’d heard from several sources that if this were a Saturday, I’d already be out of luck — on that day the first-come-first-served shop is only open from 7 a.m. to noon and a line forms out the door by 6 a.m. — so I thought a Wednesday might be safe. I didn’t need new tires, but I wanted to see if the rumors were true: the best deals for miles, odd hours, a spoken code everyone seems to know, a lengthy waitlist and a big, handwritten tome from which workers read your tire fortune.

Two men sat on a bench while others milled about the cracked blacktop outside the office entrance. I yanked the door handle to find five more customers inside the cramped office.
A woman in a Michelin sweatshirt standing behind a counter-height laminate wood table made expressionless eye contact with me.

“Can I help ya?” she asked.
“Yeah, I’m looking for, uh, a quote on tires,” I responded.
“What’re ya drivin’?”
“A 2015 Chrysler 200 S.”
“And your name?”
“OK, someone will talk to you as soon as we can.”

I found the only free spot on a padded blue bench. A new customer entered and the Michelin woman delivered the same interrogation, scribbling answers on a piece of paper filled nearly margin to margin with makes, models and names. Not two minutes after I sat down, a man named Nate called me outside. Inspecting my tires, he adjusted his grease-soaked ball cap and told me they were in good shape, that he didn’t need to sell me tires today. My trust cemented, I asked for quotes anyway.

Back inside, Nate scooted behind the counter and pulled out what I immediately knew was The Book — a giant binder with handwritten pages tucked into sheet protectors. After flipping to the appropriate page, he scribbled options for regular and snow tires from three different brands. “So multiply that by four and you have your price out the door,” he said.

I drove home and Googled price comparisons. Weber Tires’ out-the-door prices beat most national retailers, some by more than $150. I only found one that could do it for less based on an online quote.

For a local shop to have nearly the best deals among national competitors is impressive, but that’s not what sold me. Weber Tires has been around for more than 50 years, and the proprietors seemingly haven’t changed a thing. They do things a certain way because it works. While there was no cloaked, candlelit ceremony or tire-rolling initiation, I do feel as though I’m now a faithful member of whatever is happening here.

I only hope that when the time comes, my tires will have enough tread left to get me all the way to East Bristol.

EARLY BIRD GETS THE TIRES: Customers show up well before the shop opens at 7 a.m. on Saturdays in an attempt to “make the list” ahead of the shop’s noon closure. (The shop is open later on weekdays.) “The last time I went, I got there at 6 a.m. and there were already 12 people ahead of me,” says Madison resident Jessica Arp. “My parents still go there to get tires when they visit from Missouri.”

Andrea Behling is editor at Madison Magazine.

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