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No Playin' Around

Bill's Toy Shop offers serious care for cars. Plus 575 cell phone confusion, changing clothes for yoga, Las Cruces movie news and more.


Bill Lee squints up at the undercarriage of the car on the racks above him. "You see that?" he asks. He runs his fingers along a small metal rod — part of a little metal rod network, actually — connecting the axle to the wheel. "That's what is called a traveling arm, and it's not supposed to be bent like that." He points out the traveling arm on the opposing wheel — straight as the proverbial arrow — illustrating the difference between the two.

Bill Lee (left) owner of Bill's Toy Shop, and master technician Cameron Combs. (Photo by Donna Clayton Lawder)

"I happen to know that this customer runs over a lot of rocks," Lee adds, "and this is the sort of thing that can happen. It's not something you want to let go, either."

Though the car has been brought in for routine maintenance, Lee is glad to find the bent traveling arm. It's part of delivering quality service, he thinks. By giving the car a good looking-over, even if it's only in for an oil change, he can discover a small problem before it turns into a safety issue or a more major repair down the line.

"I'd rather find this now and tell her she needs to have this fixed," he says. "I like people to know what I'm doing on their car so they understand. I'll show her this and it'll feel better to me to explain it rather than just say, 'Hey, you need a new traveling arm and it's gonna cost you a couple hundred bucks.'"

Lee owns Bill's Toy Shop, a business he opened on Swan Street in Silver City after moving to town last May. The shop services only Scions, Lexuses and Toyotas, from which the business gets its catchy name; all are brands made by Toyota. Lee describes the shop's services as "pretty much everything but paint." The Toy Shop does all the basic stuff — oil changes, tune-ups, repairs that can be turned around in a half-hour or a day — and some pretty major overhauls, too, sometimes taking months of work. Restoration of classic old Land Cruisers is one of Lee's specialties, and he has a couple in the shop now, hoods up.

"People love their old Land Cruisers. They're a classic," he says. He runs a hand over a weathered golden fender. "This one's a mess, but he's having me rebuild it from the ground up." The car has been here a while already, Lee says, and he estimates he'll spend two to three months on it, working on it as he can. "The (owner) is retired, and he wanted a project to work on," he says, then adds with a laugh, "Well, he got it!" Tinkering with Cruisers is a hobby, a pastime, a passion for such car owners, Lee says. "I'll get the engine rebuilt and do all the major stuff, get it running, and then he'll take over."

Next to the gold vehicle, Lee points out a large collection of gleaming, black metal pieces. "I've got seven overhauls in process back here right now," he says. "These are the engines." He pulls one piece out of a box, removes the paper from between two pieces, exposing perfectly smooth metal surfaces. These parts have been sent to Tucson for machine work, he says, restoring them to good-as-new condition. The gleaming black finish is something he always has done, he says, to show the quality of the work, the brand-newness factor. He puts the paper back between the pieces and sets them gingerly back in their place.

Lee points out a second Land Cruiser in another part of the garage, this one a weathered but creamy sand-tan color. "It's been here three months, and I still have a lot to do on it," he says. "But it's a rare one. It's a '64, and they only made this model for two years. Definitely worth bringing back and getting back on the road."

Wanting to deliver the same kind of quality service here in Silver City that he was known for in Tucson, Lee even brought his mechanic, master technician Cameron Combs, with him.

"Cameron comes out every week from Tucson to help me out here," Lee says. "He worked for me for six years back in Tucson, and we worked together at another dealership for three and a half years before that."

A triple-certified master technician himself, Lee may have something akin to 10W30 running through his veins. He details his path from auto shop in high school through working at Toyota dealerships and finally establishing his own, the Tucson business he eventually sold when he and his wife, Bettina, moved to Silver City. Pausing a moment, his hands on his hips, he looks around at the Land Cruisers and their parts, at the more recent model car with the bent traveling arm up on the racks, another car in another bay just awaiting an oil change.

"This is really all I've ever done," he says. "I just love doing it well and these are great cars to work on. It's very satisfying."

Bill's Toy Shop, 1701 N. Swan St., Silver City.
Mon.-Thurs., 8 a.m.-5 p.m. 534-3400.


Can You Hear Me Now?

Las Cruces resident Micheline Lafortune wrote in to say that all is not rosy with her Alltel cell phone connection and New Mexico's new 575 area code. Lafortune says she had her phone reprogrammed at the Alltel store, but got confounding results. "Still people from other states or other countries cannot reach me with the 575 area code," she says. She has called Alltel headquarters several times trying to rectify the situation. One Alltel rep told her that the complaint had been resolved and the problem was with the service of the people trying to reach her. Another rep found that report "unacceptable" and attempted to call Lafortune from her own cell phone and got the message that Lafortune's phone number was not in working order — even though Lafortune had been talking to the rep from that line! Of particular concern to Lafortune were international calls — from her friends and family in Canada and Europe — not getting through.

Days later, another Alltel rep was able to reach Lafortune's cell phone, from both a land line and cell phone in Arkansas — using the 575 area code — but could not explain why international calls still were unable to get through. That Alltel rep agreed to contact Bell Canada to make sure the necessary changes were made on their side of the border. But Bell Canada responded that callers from Canada with a problem reaching New Mexico customers at the new 575 area code could call an 800 number and have the problem fixed — that's if they realize there is a problem, of course, and don't just think that the person they're trying to reach changed their number or had service discontinued. "Now I'm wondering if I'll have to do the same thing with the people in Spain and in France," a slightly exasperated Lafortune wrote. "When I was living in Florida, we had to go through three area code changes and I never had to do this."

In a classic "One of Our Fifty Is Missing" twist, Lafortune suggested that New Mexico's storied identity crisis, as featured in New Mexico Magazine's humorous column, might be a factor in the confusion. "I know, for one thing, that if my friends from Canada forget to put 'USA' on their letters, it comes back to them saying 'undeliverable,' so it tells you that if the post office doesn't know about us, why should the phone companies?!"

Lafortune has been an Alltel customer for four years and was still satisfied with their service, thankful for their help, and confident they would eventually fix the 575 problem. An Alltel rep reached at the company's customer service number (800-255-8351) said customers experiencing difficulties with out-of-state and international callers getting through should call Alltel's 800-number, and that the company was not aware of any widespread 575 problem. The rep had no explanation for how a non-local caller would know the problem was an area-code change if getting an "out of service" message. The rep reiterated that all Alltel customers should bring their cell phones to a company sales and service outlet for reprogramming before the end of the area code's phase-in "grace period" by next October.



In the "Phoenix Rising From the Ashes" department, Holly Sytch recently closed A La Mode, her women's clothing store on Bullard Street in downtown Silver City, and plans to start up a yoga practice business in the space before year end. Sytch had re-opened her business earlier this year, adding some furnishings to her retail mix, but finally has closed for good. For the past several months, she has been traveling to Albuquerque, and soon will be certified through Yoga Alliance. Sytch says she will teach a style of yoga that blends Hatha, Iyengar and other elements. She aims to work with beginners, especially, and plans to offer eight-week classes at that level, as well as separate classes for intermediates. Sytch owns the downtown building, which still is up for sale. "It'll be a really nice yoga space for now, and if it (the building) sells, I can easily move the practice to another studio space down the road," Sytch says, noting that her husband, builder Ray Sytch, could easily build her a yoga studio.


New in Town

Hasani Kudura has opened Action Counseling, a counseling practice in Suite 11 at College Street Plaza in Silver City, with a specialty in changing substance use to improve quality of life and enhance interpersonal relationships, as well as working with eating disorders, diet and lifestyle issues. Kudura works with youth and families, as well as individual adults. 313-1391.

Glass artist Billy Mack has opened the New Mexico Art Glass Center at 416 N. Bullard St., next to United Country Realty, in Silver City. Mack does private commissions, repairs and restorations, and teaches classes in the fine art of creating stained glass. He also buys and sells classic antique pieces and deals in American glassware. 534-8285.

Jeff Morris has opened The Gettin' Place at 406B N. Bullard St. in Silver City, next to the Restless Native Skate Shop. He says, "I've got everything from salt and pepper shakers to Rolex watches, knives, arrowheads, you know, stuff! If people want some unique stuff, I've got it." Morris was the original owner of Silver City's Smoke Shop. 590-0499.

Looking for unique gifts for friends and family? Mountain Desert Gifts to the rescue! Jerry G. Doll has opened shop at 413 Bullard St. next to the old Gila Theatre in downtown Silver City, just in time for the holidays. Doll and his wife, Jessie, moved to town from Montana just a couple of months ago, and decided to open up a downtown business selling novelties, knick-knacks, bird houses, walking sticks and more. 388-1553.

Jim Carillo has opened Drexel Diesel Service at 2950 Hwy. 180 E. in Silver City, servicing — what else? — diesel vehicles. 520-807-2800.

Wanda Hall, a certified grief counselor and administrator/director for Horizon Hospice, says the agency hopes to get its final certification and license to operate by year's end, adding to the area's health care options. Horizon will operate an office on "medical row" at 1216 E. 32nd St. in Silver City, also offering palliative care for terminally ill patients through in-home visits. 534-1800.



Mike Sauber and Jack Brennan are two guys who know that it pays to be nice to folks "just passin' through." Gila Hike & Bike, the bike shop at 103 E. College Ave. in Silver City, is among the handful of shops nominated for a prestigious Braxton Bike Shop Award, given by the Adventure Cycling Association and named for a shop in Missoula, Mont., known for its exemplary service. Sauber and Brennan remember their nominator as a guy who ran into some wheel trouble while biking the "Southern Tier" route, from San Diego to St. Petersburg, Fla. The cycling service gurus went the extra mile, the appreciative cyclist wrote in his nominating testimonial, and provided "standout service" that went above and beyond. He went on to call the Hike & Bike owners and staff "warm, knowledgeable and skilled." Well, heck, we knew that! Stop on in to congratulate the guys on their recent honor — and while you're there, check out their line of top-notch NorthFace winter clothing, the only place you'll find these top-of-the-line duds for miles around. Better hurry, though, as longtime bike-shop partner Sauber plans to exit the business and move to Maine. 388-3222.


Bigger and Better

Allen Theatres is pulling out all the stops to enhance Las Crucens' movie options by renovating, upgrading and adding a new multiplex. The company will convert 87 screens in 14 locations nationwide to digital cinema using Access Integrated Technologies' state-of-the-art software, programming and projectors. Work also has begun on the remodeling of theaters within the Telshor 12 multiplex, the largest in the company, to accommodate stadium seating. And the company's Web site says plans are in the works to add a new multiplex to Las Cruces in 2008. Allen Theatres has also been named the official venue of the White Sands International Film Festival for 2008, with the event to be hosted at the new and presently under construction Aviator 10 theater complex in Alamogordo.

M. Waldrop Furniture has opened at its new location on Foothills Road, near the corner with Roadrunner Parkway. The 30,000-square-foot space includes 22,500 square feet of showroom. The company, owned by Rick Tafoya, also operates stores in Roswell and Ruidoso Downs. The Las Cruces location will employ around 20. 532-5890. Like the muscular Incredible Hulk bursting out of his clothes, Las Cruces Fitness & Lifestyle, 151 S. Walnut, Bldg. A, has expanded into the space next door, celebrating with a grand re-opening. The business, nearly three years old, added more workout space and a children's room, allowing exercising parents to tote their progeny along to the gym. 312-2558.

The Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce is proudly showing off its new look after major renovations to its offices at 760 W. Picacho Ave. "The Enhancement Center" will soon offer up to 12 chamber member businesses the opportunity to buy a profile-raising promotion package that includes full color, professionally produced displays.


Send business news to Senior Editor Donna Clayton Lawder at


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