As you drive across the city, marquees alert you to a number of things: What movie is playing at the Art Theatre, what beers are on special at Clancy’s and what two dozen roses will cost you for Valentine’s Day at Conroy’s.
Allen Tire Company in Lakewood takes a different approach, mixing one-liners and car jokes. The sign’s humor can be shocking at first but most who have driven by it think it’s a real gas.
The location, just north of Heartwell Park at the intersection of Woodruff Avenue and Carson Street, is one of 17 Allen Tire shops across Southern California, but it’s the only one that has a message board. A few years ago, Fred Allen III, the son of the company’s founder, the late Fred Allen II, decided to take the messaging into his own hands.
“I just thought it was really boring,” Allen said. “I’m a humorous guy and I thought nobody cares that our tire rotation and balance is 39 bucks. Why don’t we do something fun?”
Since then, a lot of fun has been had.
Allen says some of the jokes are originals but sometimes he uses the internet to find new material. Occasionally, he references one-liner books and more recently customers have tried to help him come up with content, including one man who dropped off two full pages of potential material.
Some of Allen’s previous works read like this:
“GUY CRASHED HIS AMG. NOW HE HAS A MERCEDES BENDS.”
“IF APPLE MADE A CAR IT WOULD HAVE WINDOWS.”
Allen said that when he put up a sign announcing, “Pumpkin Spice oil changes are back,” he got a surprising response.
“We had people walking in asking if that was a real thing,” Allen said. “It was a little crazy but it got some notoriety.”
Allen’s sign even made it onto an episode of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” where host Alfonso Ribeiro, known most for playing the role of Carlton Banks alongside Will Smith on the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” showed a picture of Allen’s sign that declared the location’s tires were so fresh that Smith would be jealous.
“Trust me; he’s not,” Allen remembers Ribeiro saying.
The sign has developed a local following with people posting pictures on social media with users expressing their appreciation for the messages posted on the marquee.
The most recent, a jab at the Houston Astros’ sign stealing scandal, pays tribute to Allen’s Los Angeles Dodgers’ fandom.
Aside from the Instagram tags and the occasional PSL oil-change request, Allen said that the sign has delivered in ways he never imagined it would when his dad gave him the go-ahead to start posting funny messages on the marquee.
It’s helped the location become integrated into the surrounding community that straddles the Long Beach and Lakewood border, and that paid dividends last Christmas.
Allen said the store participates in the Toys for Tots charity drive put on by the Marine Corps, and this past year the business was able to collect five full boxes of toys.
“I think it’s definitely built a kind of connection,” Allen said. “Two of our guys live in town and they’re always telling me ‘Hey, I got stopped at the grocery store and they were telling me how funny our sign was.’ That’s really satisfying to hear stuff like that.”
What’s next for the sign? Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and Allen said he might remind the community that this year, instead of diamonds, an oil change and a set of tires might be the romantic way to go.
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