File photo Don Clark, 72, was a fixture in downtown Clovis as he helped bring visibility to Smyth Auto parts store by waving at passing motorists on Main Street. The 58-year-old store closed for good on Friday.
By Eric Butler: Freedom New Mexico
A bygone era in automotive service is truly coming to an end with the closing of Smyth Auto in Clovis.
With the closing also goes a friendly greeting that drivers on Main Street have become accustomed to receiving in recent years.
Smyth Auto Supply Company first opened its doors in January of 1951. One of the employees at the time was 25-year-old Arnold “Herb” Hammar, who — as the owner for the past 26 years — decided to close the store permanently at the end of business last Friday.
Hammar, 84, and Don Clark, 72, were the only two employees of the little parts store when it closed.
Although business had been slow the past year, Smyth’s still had a decent amount of visibility. That’s thanks to Clark, who stood in front of the store around twice a day and waved to every passing vehicle.
But it wasn’t enough.
“My health has had a pretty bad turnabout on me,” Hammar said. “I really love the old store, but I had to face facts. The building was dilapidated — it needed a roof and a floor. Parking was bad.
“To compete with AutoZone, O’Reilly and Advance (Auto Parts), all newcomers to Clovis with a lot of money behind them, it just wasn’t worth it,” he added.
Clark, who coached Little League baseball teams in Clovis for 35 years, did his part with his friendly gestures outside the business.
“It was a part of my life. I enjoyed it so much and, hopefully, it gave people a good start in the morning. I know them waving back at me gave me a good start,” said Clark, who hopes to continue working elsewhere. .
“Maybe I can find someone who will hire a 72-year-old man. I don’t have any hobbies to keep me busy and I don’t want to just sit down and do nothing,” Clark added. “I’m kind of down and out about it, but it’s just the way things go. There wasn’t the business downtown to keep it going.”
Hammar lost the store’s third employee, his wife and bookkeeper Beverly Ann, when she died in September 2005.
When Hammar left the business, to work at McGehee Truck Company in 1953, Smyth’s Auto Supply had already lost its namesake.
Curry Smyth died of a heart attack in July of 1952 and the store was taken over by Vaughn Allen.
Hammar’s turn came in 1983.
He purchased Smyth’s after retiring briefly from the McGehee position as parts manager.
“I went fishing and the fish didn’t bite; I’d go huntin’ and get snowed in,” Hammar said. “I decided that retirement wasn’t for me, so I went down there and bought the store.”