By Brice Wallace
Desert Morning News (Friday, July 15, 2005)
SUNSET — For many people, starting a business is the culmination of years of hard work. Sometimes backed by years of education. Often jump-started by having saved money meticulously.
For Charlie DuBose, Charlie's Service & Muffler shop officially started when his wife handed him some keys.
"My husband had been working in the automobile industry his whole life," said Vicki DuBose. "Where he was working at the time, I felt we'd go under working there or we could go under doing this. We decided to jump into this. I talked to the guy who owned the building, I got the keys, handed them to my husband and said, 'Here's your shop.' "
That was 20 years ago, and since then the shop at 1901 N. Main has been replaced by a much larger building housing a crew of nine mechanics plus office personnel, including the DuBose's two children.
"We opened with a small, little two-bay gas station. We did gas and service," she said. "Since then, we have a new building at the same location. We now have six bays. Two are large enough to put in motor coaches."
Charlie's Service & Muffler does all kinds of work on autos and RVs. It performs warranty work on Alfa Leisure and other coaches. Exhaust systems are its specialty, including custom exhaust systems. It also carries a few items not common to car shops: stuffed animal toys dipped in soy wax that provide aromas when lit, candles and smoker grills.
Before the business moved into the new building last October, the repair work was being done wherever it could — a testament to the business' popularity.
"We had seven mechanics working out of the two bays and under the carport and in the parking lot — winter, summer, all year around," she said.
The shop opened March 18, 1985, starting with $2,500. "He had a good clientele built up where he worked before, and a lot of customers followed him, and that kept us going for a good year before we built up the clientele here," she said. "Most of our customers have been coming to us for years and years and years."
For the most part, those long-timers have seen the DuBose children grow up, too. Justin started tinkering with car stuff at about age 7 — "Charlie would give him things and say, 'Take it apart and then put it back together.' That's how he learned," DuBose said — and began working on customers' cars at age 13. Daughter Jamie works in the office.
DuBose's father, Roy Leavitt, also has chipped in over the years, pumping gas and running errands and tinkering.
"Without him and the kids, we wouldn't have been able to make it," she said.
"Charlie loves cars and loves RVs. It's been his passion his whole life. He's really enjoyed it. And the part I enjoy most is that people say, 'How can you work with your husband all day?' Sure, we have tiffs now and then, but we've really enjoyed working together. We worked together at the other shop. We've pretty much always worked together, and when we could bring the kids in, that was even better."
Another element to keeping the shop busy has been honesty, she said.
"We try to treat everybody with honesty and integrity. We strive on giving people a good value for their money. We treat people the way we want to be treated," she said.
"If, over the years, we'd find out we had mechanics who had done anything not honest, they're gone. I won't stand for that. We want to treat people good and the way we'd expect to be treated if we went to a shop."
It's not been all cherries through the years. When the DuBoses bought the property, they faced an unexpected hurdle of replacing lots of contaminated ground full of concrete and light poles and you-name-it. "It took every penny we had," she said. "It was a real struggle."
But now that the new, expanded facility has opened, the company has found itself already outgrowing it.
"We came from a little, teeny place to where we are now," she said. "It gives you a lot of pride and a feeling of accomplishment that we came this far and have grown the way we have. When we first started, it was me and my husband and my dad, who came to help us. We've really grown a lot. We came, I feel like, from the bottom, and we're moving up."