Expect quite a few distraught neighbors when Reggie Baker retires from Lake Highlands Automotive. Some customers already won’t have their cars serviced if Baker isn’t at the shop.
“Because I’ve worked on their cars for the last 30 years, we built up a trust,” he says.
Baker is slowly winding down his lengthy career in the auto industry. He’s a constant in our ever-evolving neighborhood. As retail and residential development erupted from farmland, Baker’s businesses remained the same.
Baker was a neighborhood staple before he bought Lake Highlands Automotive in 2003. He was raised here, and he married his high school sweetheart, Tanya, who he courted at Dairy Queen. As a 17-year-old, Baker was hired to pump gas at Lakeridge Texaco, which T.L. Nieman and his son, Tim, then owned.
The no-frills gas station at the corner of Kingsley and Audelia roads included several full-service pumps and a garage for repairs. There were no lottery tickets or snacks offered, except for Christmas when Nieman doled out eggnog, Old Forester’s whiskey, apples and oranges to customers.
Nieman was an eccentric character, says Doug Dallafior, who worked with Baker at Lakeridge Texaco for several years and eventually joined him at Lake Highlands Automotive.
“In my eyes, they weren’t future-oriented,” Dallafior says. “Reggie advanced it into the future.”
Baker purchased the gas station in 1989. His sons, Jordon and Jared, mopped floors, pumped gas and painted curbs for a small paycheck.
Baker managed to maintain the old-school Texaco until Wendy’s bought the property 15 years ago. The closure turned into a blessing for Baker, he says. Days after he learned he’d lose the property, he received a call asking if he’d buy Lake Highlands Automotive.
Now Baker, Jordon and his childhood best friend, Adam Tharp, manage the business’ day-to-day operations.
Texaco memorabilia lines shelves at the auto shop’s office. Baker and Dallafior can rattle off a myriad of personalities they’ve served, from Mr. Peppermint to Purple Heart recipient Earl Tweed and an odd fellow who removed phone numbers from signage around town.
Jordon never envisioned he’d work in the auto industry, much less with his father. But he has a knack for mechanics; both Baker and Dallafior consider him the most talented.
“Even nowadays, I respect his opinion and input,” Jordon says. “How can I correct someone who’s been doing this for 30 years?”