Densho Digital Archive
Japanese American Museum of San Jose Collection
Title: George Hanada Interview
Narrator: George Hanada
Interviewer: Stephen Fugita
Location: San Jose, California
Date: November 15, 2004
Densho ID: denshovh-hgeorge-01-0011

<Begin Segment 11>

SF: So tell us about how you started George's. How did you find out about it, and why did you go from farming to running a service center?

GH: Well, my, my dad had just had a heart attack, and, of course, my wife is from the city, she didn't particularly care for working out in the farm. So I guess I didn't have much choice. I would have liked to continue farming, because that was basically what I was, went to school for. And, but then the opportunity arose, and I used to hang out there quite a bit, at the garage. I had a friend there, by the previous owner, not the guy I bought it from, but the previous guy, we used to hang around together. Then he sold it to this fellow, Tom Honda, and I bought it from Tom Honda.

SF: So to kind of go back a little bit, what's the history of that service station? Who owned it before the war?

GH: Well, originally, this fellow, Tanizawa, he built the station. He had a grocery store across the street, Fourth and Jackson, and then he built this on the, on the, across the street, corner. And he built a grocery store and a, and a service station, and he ran the grocery store, and his brother-in-law ran the station.

SF: What happened during the war when everybody was gone? Who ran it?

GH: I guess it was leased out to somebody. I don't remember the name, but there was a fellow that ran the station, and then I don't think he had -- I think it was closed by the time we came back in '46 or so, it was already closed; it wasn't even operating. And then a couple of guys took it over and started it. Bill Yosukawa and I think his brother took over the shop, and they, somebody ran the station part, I don't know. Then this fellow, Ray Taniguchi, he ran the station for a while, and then he sold it to Tom Honda, and then Tom Honda sold it to me.

SF: So how did you learn all your automotive skills if you were mostly farming?

GH: Oh, I went to this ag. school, and we had a class, quite an extensive class in automotive repair, and that's where I picked up most of it.

SF: So you bought the place in 1953, and describe how your operation was in the early days, like in the early '50s or mid-'50s. What kind of a, how big was the operation and what did you specialize in?

GH: When we first got there, it was just light mechanics, and selling gas. And, but we went into more of the tire business, and we did a lot of truck tire repairs and selling truck tires. So we used to have a pretty good crew running around selling -- mounting, selling and mounting truck tires.

SF: So you went into truck tires because you sensed that there was a demand for it, and there was a bigger, better market for truck tires than just running a gas station with, doing mechanic work on cars? So that was a better, better opportunity?

GH: Well, sales is always, everything is sales. Volume is, I thought, was the secret to the whole thing. Even gasoline, if you just sell a few gallons, you're not gonna make it. But if you sell a lot of it, and by the same token, you can sell... car tires in those days were, like, twenty or thirty, twenty or thirty dollars apiece. Truck tires were a hundred dollars or more apiece. And if you sell truck tires, usually if you sell a semi, that's eighteen wheels, eighteen tires at one shot, that's much more profitable than selling two or three or four tires at a car. We were real fortunate because we had the support of most Japanese that were farming in the area, and a lot of the farmers would call us for tractor tires, and, of course, they patronized us pretty loyally.

SF: So what accounted for this good customer relationship? Would you say that, I don't know, you were a good guy and tried to really give them an extra, extra dose of good service... or to build up your clientele? Obviously you were very successful, so why were you so successful? Like, how did you handle your customers and so forth?

GH: Well, like I say, the Japanese community was real loyal to us, plus the fact that we were available twenty-four hours a day, so that made it -- like, for instance, we would get, we were on the highway patrol call list in case they had a problem with a, a truck down on the highway with a tire problem. We wouldn't get any calls during the day, but after ten o'clock at night or nine o'clock at night, most guys would kind of retire for the day, then we would get calls, like two, three, four o'clock in the morning is when we would get the bulk of our calls.

SF: So you mentioned that a lot of your customers were JAs, or Japanese Americans. Did you, in a sense, feel that you had to give them a little bit of a better deal or kind of treat them a little better because they were Japanese Americans? Or did they expect you to give them a little bit better service, or make sure they got the right stuff because they were Japanese Americans?

GH: Oh, I think we were fair with them. I think we were... I mean, being that they were loyal to us, we were, tried to do our best for them. And it worked out pretty well.

SF: Yeah.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.