Southern Scottsdale resident Craig Bell remembers working at his father Carol Bell’s auto repair shop like it was yesterday.
“I started working there at 14,” he said. “I went to Coronado [High School]. I went to Hohokam [Elementary School], which is just down the street. And my parents’ house is on Palm Lane, right behind the shop.”
Today, Craig owns the auto repair shop, Bell Auto Service, with his wife Vicki Bell, a Scottsdale native; this year, that shop celebrates its 46th anniversary.
“If I wasn’t gone those three years [attending college], I would have literally worked here for 45 years,” Craig said.
Bell Auto Service was born out of an independent Shell gas station and grew from two service bays to a full-service auto repair shop, offering everything from “lubes and fluid changes to complete engine overhauls,” the website states.
Originally from Kansas City, Carol grew up around farmers.
Also armed with mechanical experience, Carol moved himself and his immediate family to Scottsdale in 1961, when Craig was 4-years-old.
“His mom was not happy,” Carol said with a smirk. “I loaded him up in the car, the truck full of gear and we pulled out.”
After working for Allstate, Carol leased and then eventually purchased a Shell station in 1981.
“When we were at the Shell station, we did a lot of repairs there. And then we rented this little place behind [the shop] because we needed a lot more space,” Craig said. “We were doing a lot of business, a lot of mechanical repairs.”
Craig’s grandfather also had a gas station in Scottsdale, on the corner of Camelback and Scottsdale Roads, from the mid-’60s to the ‘70s.
“I used to play in that canal right there,” Craig said, adding his uncle also had two gas stations in Tempe. “We’ve been all over the place.”
That same year Carol purchased the Shell, Craig and Vicki bought their southern Scottsdale home, located just four blocks away from the shop.
“We’ve been in the neighborhood our whole lives,” Craig says.
And this is, partly, what has made Bell Auto Service so successful through the years: “We’re part of the neighborhood, [and] you can’t take advantage of your neighbors,” Craig said.
Fellow southern Scottsdale resident Vivian Locke has been a long-time customer of Auto Bell Service since the shop was founded in 1974.
“They’re good people and they do a good job,” she said matter-of-factly, adding they’re “very honest.”
“I can’t tell you the times I’ve come down here thinking there was something wrong with my car and there wasn’t,” Locke said.
Locke is just one of many long-time Bell Auto Service customers.
“A lot of our customers are kids [Craig] went to high school with [and] their dads,” Vicki said.
“We’ve got a lot of older customers and a lot of them I’ve worked on their cars and then their kids’ [cars]; and I’ve actually got a couple of their grandkids’ cars,” Craig added.
The Bells currently work on anywhere from 10 to 12 vehicles at any given moment.
“It’s been pretty good over the years,” Craig said. “We actually did OK during the recession because that was a time when everybody was not buying cars. So, they were repairing what they had and going farther, keeping them a lot longer.”
The Bells also pride themselves on their customer service.
“He’s very good with customers,” Carol said of his son. “He likes to work, but he will stop and talk to a customer.”
Though Carol sold the business to Craig in 2001, Carol continues to spend much of his time at the shop, engaging with customers and giving them rides to and from home if they need it.
“He retired a long time ago. He just likes to come up every day,” Craig said.
While Craig and Vicki don’t know what Bell Auto Service’s future holds, they do know they don’t plan on retiring quite yet.
“It’s everything,” Vicki said.
“It’s just part of our life,” Craig added. “This business has provided to three families with consistently with an income for all these years.”
Their employees, which includes their daughter, Christina Bell, are also considered family.
The longest-running staff member was employed at Bell Auto Service for more than 20 years.
And if it weren’t for the shop and its close proximity to home, Vicki and Craig wouldn’t be able to tend to their son who has cerebral palsy.
“The shop just gave us that flexibility,” Craig said.
Bell Auto Service is located on 8650 E. McDowell Road.