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This article first appeared in the SanTan Sun News, Dec. 2, 2017, edition, pages 20-21.


Saba's & TexEarly Chandler businesses helped build and strengthen the community they continue to serve today  
The small, up-and-coming town of Chandler was an attractive place for family businesses to make their mark 

The town of Chandler actually started as a business venture. Dr. Alexander John Chandler created a master plan that subdivided his ranch into smaller lots, which he began selling on May 16, 1912. He envisioned the town growing and developing around a central park square surrounded by hotels, businesses, restaurants and more. That dream was soon realized, and while much has changed through the years, many of the original structures are still in place and a few of the earliest businesses still operate in what we call Downtown Chandler, today.

Many of the earliest shops and businesses in Downtown Chandler were started by recent immigrants to America. Often, one or more family members found their way to the Arizona desert and were attracted to the opportunities that a small, yet growing, community like Chandler could offer. Their entrepreneurial spirit, hard work, dedication and family pride sustained them through good economic times and bad, through world wars, family crisis and changing cultural norms. They were the core of Chandler’s economy, maintained deep ties to the community and served their customers well through many decades.

This article will attempt to highlight some of the oldest family-owned and -operated businesses in Chandler today. The information has been collected from Chandler Museum archives (ChandlerpediA), City of Chandler records, business websites and interviews with local business owners. It is likely that this article unintentionally omits some longtime Chandler businesses, and additional information from the public is welcome on the City’s Facebook page, where we will share this article at facebook.com/cityofchandleraz. 

Here are some of the longtime family businesses that started here and, to this day, make significant contributions to the City of Chandler. 
  • SERRANO’S (1919)
    Two brothers originally from Sonora, Mexico, Albert and Luis Serrano, moved north from Tucson to the growing community of Chandler in 1919 and opened a clothing store called The Popular Store on the downtown square on East Boston Street. While the brothers were successful and eventually opened a number of department stores in the Valley, by the late 1970s, the evolving business climate caused the family to consider a new direction. Eva and Ernie Serrano opened their first restaurant, La Casa Serrano, in Downtown Chandler in 1979. After two years of operating a restaurant and the clothing store, the Serranos finally closed the last of their retail stores in 1981 and focused on the restaurant business, making the current operation – Serrano’s Fine Mexican Food – the oldest continuous family-owned business in Chandler.
       
  • David Saba, Sr., in Chandler, ArizonaSABA’S (1927)
    One family has operated the same type of business in Chandler since 1927, making it the oldest family owned original business in Chandler. On Oct. 19, Saba’s Western Store celebrated 90 years in Downtown Chandler. The family patriarch, David Saba Sr., came to America in 1913 from Beirut, Lebanon, at the age of 17. His travels and business opportunities took him from New York City to Northern California, then to the Arizona mining town of Ray in 1916. He and his wife, Adele, moved to Chandler in 1927 and opened the original Saba’s Western Wear. At the time, many of their customers rode up on horses, which they could tie up at the front of the store. David Saba, Jr., and his wife Joan, took over the family business in 1954. Their son, Davey oversees the Chandler store operations today.
       
  • BASHAS’ (1932)
    Another family of Lebanese immigrants also found their way here after first arriving in New York City in 1884. Najeeb Basha joined his father in America in 1886 and was married to Najeeby Srour in 1901. Together they settled briefly in Congress Junction, Ariz., in 1910, then quickly relocated to the Ray and Sonora area that same year. Najeeb and Najeeby operated a small dry goods store in Sonora, where they raised their eight children. After a fire destroyed much of their inventory, the Basha family moved to Chandler and opened another mercantile, The Boston Store, in 1920. In 1932, their sons, Ike and Eddie Sr., saw an opportunity and opened the first store with the family name, Bashas’ Dry Goods. Today, the company is still family owned, operates more than 130 grocery stores throughout Arizona and the corporate headquarters is still in south Chandler. The Bashas’ website summarizes the family’s amazing story this way: “A Lebanese man had a glimmer of a better life, took an enormous risk, and came to America. His son, accompanied by his wife, had a vision of a better life out west, took an enormous risk, and came to Arizona. Success and failure came in nearly equal measure, and at times, the vision seemed in doubt. Finally, two grandsons of that first Lebanese immigrant saw a last-ditch opportunity to keep their family from ruin, took an enormous risk, and opened a store in 1932. The American Dream at last became real. And the rest is history.”
       
  • DANA TIRE & AUTO SERVICE (1951)
    Dana Tire Company began in 1951, when Mesa resident Ken Dana heard about a location available to rent near Downtown Chandler on North Arizona Avenue (State Route 87), which at that time was a concrete road with one lane in each direction. He soon joined forces with his brother, Dwight Dana, and together they built the small tire retreading company into a full service tire and auto business. Today, Ken’s son, Hugh, and Dwight’s son, Scott, own the business, and a third generation of family members work alongside them to continue the family legacy. 
       
  • Earnhardt Ford in ChandlerEARNHARDT’S (1951)
    In 1951, Hal Earnhardt, Sr. moved his family from the Rio Grande Valley of Southern Texas, to Chandler, where he opened a small gas station downtown. The service station provided a small income for his family by selling gas and auto parts. His 21-year-old son, nicknamed Tex, was a tireless worker and demonstrated enough business acumen that he was soon awarded a Ford franchise, becoming the youngest Ford franchise owner in the U.S. Tex set up shop on North Arizona Avenue, where Earnhardt Ford prospered through the years. In time, Tex acquired several more automobile franchises, and he became widely known as the cowboy car dealer who sat atop a steer in his TV commercials and proclaimed his trademark slogan “that ain’t no bull.” Together the Earnhardt family is at the helm of one of the Southwest’s largest automotive empires, including Ford, Chevrolet and Cadillac dealerships in Chandler.
           
  • BUELER MORTUARY (1952)
    Chandler was a small farming town in 1952, when Frank Bueler moved his family from Clovis, New Mexico, and purchased Hausner Mortuary in Downtown Chandler. Bueler had lived in Arizona before, working in the funeral business in Phoenix since 1939. In 1960, Bueler Mortuary moved from Boston Street to its present location just north of Chandler High School. The business is still family owned and operated, working with other families in their time of need, and providing personal care and attention.
           
  • FULLER CHIROPRACTIC (1952)
    Dr. Rodger Fuller grew up in the Mesa/Chandler area and opened what may have been Chandler’s first chiropractic practice in 1952. His son, Dr. Randy Fuller, was born and raised in Chandler, graduated from Chandler High School in 1977 and joined his father’s practice in 1983. Dr. Rodger Fuller served his patients until his death at age 84 in 2008. Today, Dr. Randy Fuller maintains the practice on West Boston Street in Downtown Chandler.
            
  • STOLL MASONRY, INC. (1961)
    When Mark Stoll’s family moved from Iowa to Chandler in 1951, he says a sign on the north side of town welcomed people to “The Green Spot” and listed the population as, “3,800 and a few old crabs!” In 1958, Stoll was a member of the first graduating class from Seton High School. After graduation he found a job with a masonry contractor in Chandler and quickly decided that he wanted to own his own business. In 1961, he bought out another masonry contractor and started Stoll Masonry with seven employees. At its peak in 2006, Stoll employed 150 people, but that dropped to 18 after the Great Recession, before rebounding to 55 today. Stoll Masonry work can be found in older and newer retail and office buildings and home subdivisions throughout Chandler, including some of the newest automobile dealerships in the Chandler 202 Auto Park.
           
  • ESPO’S MEXICAN FOOD (1962)
    David Espinoza worked for the Basha Family in Phoenix when he received an offer to move to Chandler with his wife, Olga, and operate the Wingfoot Market on what was then East Williams Field Road, now Chandler Boulevard. Later, an opportunity arose to purchase a grocery store from the Estrella family in the Pueblo Alto (High Town) neighborhood near McClintock Drive. In 1962, David and Olga opened Espo’s Mexican Food, using her recipes and serving the delicious food that would attract customers for more than 50 years. Espo’s closed briefly several years ago, after David’s passing. His son, Leon Espinoza, became the sole owner and reopened the restaurant, keeping it among the oldest family owned and operated businesses in Chandler.
           
  • ROY DOSSEY PLUMBING (1963)
    Roy Dossey was 10 years old in 1947 when his family moved here. In 1963, he started Roy Dossey Plumbing in Downtown Chandler, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather who also were plumbers. Dossey and his wife, Joanne, built a successful residential and commercial plumbing business while they raised their family in Chandler. All four of their children – Cathi, Julie, Chip and Amy – are involved with the business today. The Dossey’s grandson, Scott, also works for the company, making it a multigenerational family enterprise.
           
  • CENTRAL CONSTRUCTION CO. AND CENTRAL REAL ESTATE CO.  (1967)
    Two families started two companies at the same time in 1967 and continue to work closely together today. Central Construction Co. and Central Real Estate Co. were founded in 1967 by James Cullumber, in partnership with Eugene and Mike Hickey. By the 1970s, Central Construction was the largest homebuilder in Chandler and Central Real Estate sold those homes. Through the years, Central Construction built shopping centers, offices, apartments, condominiums, banks, hospitals, medical/dental centers, industrial buildings and churches. Central Real Estate was involved in many of those deals. James’ son, Jeff, and Mike Hickey’s son, Brent, both worked for the construction company through their high school and teen years as general laborers, before starting their own businesses. In 1989, Jeff bought into Central Construction and today is the sole owner. Brent bought Central Real Estate in 2010.
Some family businesses operated in the Chandler area for decades and had a lasting impact on the community, but they may no longer be in business here and do not appear on this list. For example, agriculture was the centerpiece of the local economy even before the town of Chandler was founded. Family owned farms and ranches surrounded the small towns that sprang up in the East Valley. Many of those family agri-business operations thrived for decades, before urban sprawl and rapid population growth resulted in most of these families selling their land and closing or moving their operations. Longtime Chandler families with the names Dobson, Riggs, Knox, Duggan and others may no longer have large farms or dairies here, but their historical importance cannot be denied.

For more information on these and other Chandler businesses that have served Chandler residents through the years, visit the Chandler Museum online archives – ChandlerpediA – at chandleraz.gov/museum.