NETTLETON – Billy Pender can think back to his first vehicle, a 1969 Pontiac GTO, with a smile. He can also conjure up old stories about when teenagers used to drag race across the old Town Creek bridge to see who had the fastest car.
A few parts to make classic cars like those go may still be tucked away somewhere on shelves in the stock room of his auto parts store, Pender’s Auto Parts. He and his father, Leasel, opened the store in 1974 across Highway 45 where Piggly Wiggly is now.
“I’ve seen so many changes. With technology, when it’s working, it’s good but when it’s not, it can close you up for a bit,” he said. “The auto parts business has changed like everything else. It even takes a different kind of person on the parts counter. With a lot of counter people you see now, if that computer doesn’t tell you, they won’t know. A good counter person can help that person through.”
His son, Justin, came back in 2017 to help work the counter after a 13-year hiatus. As he can fondly recall his first truck, a 1987 Chevy Silverado, he can also attest to history repeating itself with the business.
“This is where I spent my summers. It’s strange I used to get off the school bus here, and now my kids get off the bus here,” Justin said.
After three generations of Penders at the business and a move to a new location in 1984, the parts house is still there to help with the needs of people driving most anything. As wording on the front windows suggest, the business offers a range of services outside of parts.
“We used to sell paint but don’t anymore. We make custom hydraulic hoses and turn brakes and rotors. We have a big business in small engine parts for lawnmowers, chainsaws and four-wheelers. We sell car batteries; four-wheeler batteries; industrial, farm and commercial equipment batteries; marine batteries; and golf cart batteries,” Billy said.
He and Justin install batteries purchased from Pender’s and cut keys too. Shelves throughout the store are stocked with items such as motor oil, lubricants, detailing supplies, filters, sparkplugs and body shop parts.
Like plenty of other small town parts houses, Pender’s Auto Parts preserves a piece of the past. Billy’s memory of the early days offers a reminder of round track drivers from Nettleton shopping there before races at tracks and a drag strip in Wren, Shannon and off of Highway 6. It has even outlasted several of the different supply warehouse companies that used to stock its shelves.
“When we started, ‘60s-model muscle cars were popular, but a lot of things have changed,” Billy said.