KINGMAN - The time has come for Willis Lynes, "The Clock Man," to wind down his business in downtown Kingman.
Lynes closed his shop at 226 E. Beale St. after 10 years and is going back to fixing clocks as a hobby. He sold most of his clocks for half of what they're worth and kept the "cream of the crop" for his personal collection.
It wasn't for lack of business that Lynes retired. With 40 years of expertise working on antique and rare clocks that nobody else would touch, Lynes was in high demand by customers across the country.
There were other reasons to quit, some of them personal.
"The main reason I retired is I just wanted to get out from under running a business. I guess I'm burned out," the 74-year-old clock repairman said during an interview at the Daily Miner. "I want to get it back to being a hobby again."
Then he got on his soapbox.
"Kingman has so much untapped potential that they're absolutely ignoring, actually suppressing it," Lynes said. "Talk to any city administrator and most of them would just as soon see downtown burn. They're not supportive of downtown, or if they are, they haven't shown it."
Lynes was hoping to build a saleable business when he opened his clock shop in 2004.
He started advertising the business for sale and got no takers - primarily because it was in Kingman, he said.
"It's a pretty small town. It's not Phoenix or Las Vegas. It's just a place people drive through. They stop and get gas if they have to," Lynes said. "Nobody wants to stay here and see what's here. If the city promoted it, more people would want to stay here. It's wasted potential."
In all fairness, Lynes said the biggest problem for Kingman is a lack of city property taxes. Downtown is owned by absentee landlords, investors from out of state who bought property in Kingman because it was cheap. They live in L.A. and allow buildings to fall into disrepair, not spending a penny on improvements, he said.
He also gave the city kudos for establishing the "quiet zone" through town, stifling train whistles that were so loud people had to stop their conversations.
Gary Jeppson, director of development services for Kingman, said the quiet zone is one of several things the city has done to make downtown more attractive.
"It makes a difference not hearing the train whistles," he said. "We're trying to work on historic preservation and enhancing the appearance of downtown. We're working with property owners on building codes. We just don't have funding for better streetscape."
The city leased a parking lot at 3rd Street and Andy Devine Avenue to Werner Fleishmann, a Swiss investor who bought the Brunswick Hotel, former J.C. Penney store and other downtown buildings.
"He's certainly willing to invest in downtown," Jeppson noted. "He sees the potential of its historic character."
Williams is a terrific example of a sleepy little town on Route 66 that was bypassed by the freeway and was dying. The city received grants from the Housing and Urban Development's Main Street program that seeks to rejuvenate older, downtown business districts while retaining traditional and historic character. Downtown Williams is now flourishing.
"They do have a railroad, but they've literally made a destination out of Williams," Lynes said. "Sure it's tourists, but they bring money."
The businessman would like to see Kingman promote more tourism.
"Typically, the historical part of town is more of a tourist trap," he noted. "J.C. Penney is not going to put a store down here. These tourists spend money and pay taxes. More restaurants would be great."
Lynes said he thought his clock shop would be an asset to downtown, and it was for while, but things started dying around him. Business owners vacated shops as the economy entered a down cycle.
As for the future of downtown Kingman?
"More of the same," Lynes predicted. "It's going to stay like it is. I don't think anybody's going to take the initiative to improve it much. Our hands are tied. We pay rent to someone who won't fix the building."
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