Steve Valkema is no stranger to this community. His family owned and operated the tire business for the past three generations -- a span of more than 75 years.  

Steve’s grandfather, William Valkema, first started the business back in the ‘30’s. “Bill’s Tire Shop”, as it was then called, did business from its location on 7th street in Holland. The Tire Shop moved to Fennville in 1965 to its original location at Main and Maple streets where our post office now stands. In 1987 the business was renamed Fennville Tire Center and moved down the street to its present location on Main street.

Steve started working for his father, Alan Valkema, right after graduating from High School in 1988. Ownership of the business evolved over to Steve as he acquired the knowledge and experience necessary to run the business himself.   

Steve is married and has three children:  Kevin, 16; Mathew, 13 and William 2 ˝. According to Steve, William, his youngest son, is showing the most interest in someday taking over and letting dad re-tire. (Pun intended!)

In case you haven’t looked under your hood lately, the modern automobile has completely outstripped the skills of what were once called “shade tree mechanics.” Today’s automotive service technicians require extensive training and experience. In addition, to be employed by a reputable shop, they must demonstrate their competence by obtaining official certification. Steve has three employees on staff. Mitch Brown, Mathew Zawila and Greg Crippin III.  All are either State and ASE certified or working toward their certification.

Here's how ASE certification works: Prospective candidates register for and take one or more of ASE's 40-plus exams. The tests are grouped into areas of specialization. Upon passing at least one exam and providing proof of two years of relevant work experience, the test taker becomes ASE certified. Certification, however, is not forever. To remain certified, those with ASE credentials must be retested every five years. Steve’s certified team can handle just about any repair job short of an engine or transmission overhaul.

Interestingly, Steve’s garage is heated entirely using waste engine oil as fuel. Besides the oil he drains from customer’s vehicles, he accepts oil from do-it-yourselfers as well. His garage heating system passes the waste oil through a filter, then on to a specially designed burner that is environmentally certified. The waste oil is burned at such a high temperature that complete combustion takes place and no pollutants are exhausted into the atmosphere. Talk about a win-win!  That’s recycling at its finest. (How’d you like to completely eliminate your home heating bills?)

There’s something about a multi-generational family owned business that inspires confidence. Customers can be assured that they’re in it for the long haul. The reputation they want to protect belongs to generations past, present and future.

Steve used the phrases “I’m proud of” or “ we take pride in” numerous times during our relatively brief conversation. (I use a recording device for my interviews so I was able to  count them.) I had a clear sense that his expression of pride in his business and the service he provides our community was genuine. We in the Fennville Chamber use these terms too – particularly when we talk about our local businesses such as the Fennville Tire Center.


Bill's Tire in Holland. Pre 1965 William Valkema moves the business to Fennville at the corner of Maple and Main - 1965 Grand Opening at the present location down the street. That's Steve's father, Alan in the foreground - 1987 The bathtub still serves as a "dunk tank" to find the leak Just because you're the boss doesn't mean you don't get your hands dirty
Greg Crippin III (left) and Mitch Brown - a vital part of the team Storage tank for used crankcase oil becomes the energy source to heat the garage The specially designed burner is mounted overhead in the garage Steve with a container holding the diverse range of objects removed from tires brought in for repair A closer look at the strange assortment of road hazards out there