Business Feature: Storm doesn’t demolish will of local business owners

Clovis Body Shop on South Prince Street is located in one of the hardest hit sections in town. Family members said they plan to rebuild the 50-year-old shop. (CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks)

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

A tornado may have torn apart a few buildings and countless cars, but it wasn’t strong enough to damage the resolve a family holds to keep business going.

Friday’s tornado did significant damage to Clovis Body Shop and nearby CBS Auto Recyclers, so much that brothers-in-law David Deaton and Tom Harlan are still not open for business.

Both are moving on, as Harlan gets ready to rebuild CBS’ parts stock and Deaton is temporarily setting up shop at Rubac Enterprises on Prince Street.

Harlan said the damage done to his business only requires a few days to fix, and what’s left of his inventory is too expensive to move elsewhere. Besides, Harlan is anticipating a huge loss on merchandise he couldn’t insure — non-running cars sitting outside, full of parts for similar models.

“We lost probably 50 percent of our inventory, mainly in cars that were out in the open and got tossed around and damaged further than they had been,” Harlan said. “We just have to sort out what is left that is still good. What’s not any good, we’ll sell to the scrap metal place down the street and buy other cars.”

One family member who’s hopeful to see the businesses recover is Carl Deaton. He started both before selling to his son and son-in-law about two decades ago.

The businesses are like children for the Deatons, and the weekend damage was tough to take.

“This is unreal,” Carl Deaton said. “I just look around and see it all over, the damage that is all here. It buffaloes me. I can’t imagine that damage from wind like that.”

Carl Deaton started the body shop in 1946 after he got out of the Navy with a background in metalwork. He stayed in it because he enjoyed the challenge of fixing cars, and the business built from a 40-by-40 building to a complex of roughly 6,000 square feet.

Now, the challenge is to recover from the worst tornado in the city’s history. He thinks the family is up to the task.

“It will be kind of a relief,” he said, “to get going again and continue what we’ve started — a good place to get cars repaired.”

For now, that place will be house at Rubac Enterprises. While it’s technically a competitor to Clovis Body Shop, Rubac owner Russ Backoff said the vast amount and diversity of auto work in Clovis makes a team effort necessary.

“Somebody might have equipment to work on a car that I don’t have,” Backoff said. “It’s not like we sit there and run back and forth every day, but we’re not enemies.”

Backoff has owned his shop since 1970 and expanded it in the 80s. He’s vastly scaled back operations recently in preparation for retirement.

“I’ve got lots of room and a big body shop I built in the 80s,” Backoff said. “He might as well use it to his fullest. I’ve got everything he needs. He’s just bringing his own computers and electronic stuff.”

It’s because of his neighbors and friends, Harlan said, the businesses will fight on.

“We’re dyed-in-the-wool Clovis people,” Harlan said. “It’s a wonderful community and we’ll be here until they turn out the last lights. It’s not going to run us out.”