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Body shop observes 60 years as a family-owned business
Over the past 60 years, Smitty's Paint and Body Shop has been in a variety of locations, but one constant is that the business has always been owned and operated by the Schmidgall family.
Even as they celebrate the notable milestone, that's a tradition current owners Rob and Debbie Schmidgall hope will continue with their children and grandchildren for years to come.
Smitty's was established in 1952 in a little shop behind Dunbar Chevrolet by Rob's grandfather, U.M. “Smitty” Schmidgall, according to a 1963 newspaper article that is yellowed and brittle with age but lovingly preserved by the family.
A photo accompanying the article shows the front window of the business with a sign that says “Baked enamel paint jobs $39.99.”
The article stated that Smitty started the shop as a specialist in paint and body work, bringing more than 30 years of experience in automobile work to the business. Before coming to Yuma, he had owned and operated a body shop in Jerome, Idaho.
As the Yuma business grew and prospered, glass and upholstering were added to the services. And Smitty was joined by his sons, Kenneth, Hank and Bob. Kenneth, who was farming in Idaho for a while, would come to Yuma in the winter months and lend a hand in the shop.
The shop also changed locations a few times, with that history preserved in a series of business cards. It was located in Somerton at 200 Main St. for a short time, then moved back to Yuma to 228-1/2 2nd Ave. It finally settled in at 206 Orange Ave. for a number of years.
In 2005, Rob realized his dream of a new and larger building by moving the shop to its current location at 2685 E. 24th St.
Debbie believes that was a move that was meant to be. Right after the couple built the new shop, the market went “sky high,” she said. And since they moved, the area around the shop has built up with other businesses.
“It was a great move ... it's a good location,” Debbie said as she surveyed the modern, attractive office.
It also gave them space to bring on board their two daughters, Jennifer and Jill, and one son-in-law.
And perhaps one day their grandchildren, Debbie observed. Although that will be awhile as the couple's seven granddaughters are young and their one grandson is only 5.
In 1970, the shop was passed on to the second generation when Kenneth, Rob's father, bought the business.
Rob got an early start in the business. He recalled sweeping floors when he was about 12 years old. In high school, he began doing assembly work with his uncle.
In 1983, he was thrust into the management of the business when his father was killed in a Jeep accident. Seven years later, Rob purchased the business from his mother.
Asked if he had ever wanted to do something different than follow his grandfather and father in the business, Rob replied that he had taken welding classes at Arizona Western College and thought about maybe working on the Alaska pipeline.
He never got to Alaska, deciding he wanted to stay in Yuma and work with his father instead. Someday, he might like to go to Alaska just for a visit, though. And his welding skills have come in handy on occasion.
The Schmidgalls attribute the continuing success of their business for 60 years to dedication, hard work and an emphasis on customer service. And they take pride in restoring their customers' cars to their original condition. The company also runs an Enterprise car rental service, so customers can conveniently rent cars to drive while theirs are being repaired.
This all earned the third- and fourth-generation family-owned business the No. 1 ranking in 2007 as Yuma's Best Auto Body Shop, chosen by Yuma Sun readers.
In response, Debbie was quoted: “I think it's pretty awesome for the people of Yuma to have confidence in us to do the job right and vote us Yuma's Best. We appreciate them as customers supporting us over the years. It's important to us that we put out quality of work and safety of the vehicles ... We put safety above all.”
Rob observed that many of their customers are people he went to school with. Others were his father's friends and some even knew his grandfather.
Joyce Lobeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6853. Find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/YSJoyceLobeck or on Twitter at @YSJoyceLobeck.