Sitting in a worn recliner in the front-right corner of Barney’s Auto Parts on East Hickory Street, owner Jimmy Normile chats with friends and visitors while an auction service crew packs and moves anything salvageable from the property.
Every now and then, Normile stops the crew when they start to take an item he wants to keep. Instead of going into the U-Haul trailer, the item is added to a few toolboxes already situated by his recliner.
“What size tire is that?” he asks Monty Fitzgerald, the auctioneer, who will sell the contents of Barney’s on Aug. 24.
“Whatever size you want it to be,” Fitzgerald says.
That 13-inch tire will fit one of Normile’s smaller cars, and Fitzgerald places it by an old wooden ladder that Normile also wants to keep.
The storefront of the auto parts shop is now closed, after Normile, 90, received six letters in one day in May alerting him to code violations. Faced with the decision to bring the property up to city standards or retire, Normile chose to close.
“I would’ve liked to stay a little longer, but at my age and messing with this city, it’s not worth it,” he said. “I put it all together and at my age — I’m 90 years old — to do all the stuff to comply with this goofiness, it’s time to say ‘adios.’”
According to city officials, the notifications concerned the two accessory structures behind the main storefront, both of which are categorized as dangerous. They were filed as notices and courtesy letters, not citations, said Lancine Bentley, the city code enforcement manager.
“The last thing code enforcement wants to do is tear down a building, especially if it could have some historic value,” said Julie Glover, Denton’s economic development program administrator.
In the back portion of the property, trees poke through a fence, barrels and tires collect standing water, and two corrugated tin buildings are collapsing, both Glover and Bentley said.
“They’re not safe — and that’s the whole thing with code enforcement,” Glover said. “It’s about public safety, not trying to get somebody.”
Normile bought the business in 1959 and said he’s changed very little since. He said he has never been in this situation before with code enforcement, though Bentley said maintenance had been deferred for so many years that the dilapidation is extensive.
“There’s somebody down there at City Hall — I don’t want to call them thugs, but they’re thugs,” Normile said. “I think they’re all happy about [the store closing].”
While on a site visit in late May, a code enforcement officer learned from Normile that he had planned to sell the property since February, Bentley said.
Another factor in Normile’s decision was dwindling business. With more shops in the area and more diverse cars on the road, he said it has been harder to keep up.
Friends and customers have been coming by the shop as portions are moved out. One, Kenneth Stout, 73, said he remembers coming to Barney’s with his parents, and he hates seeing a longtime business leave.
“I just happened to see he was here today, and I thought, ‘Well, I’ll come by and chat with him a bit.’ It’s just a shame to see things go,” he said.
Normile said that when he told a customer who brought his car over last week that he couldn’t inspect it, the man told him he was the only person who had ever inspected his vehicles. The 35-year-old had been visiting Barney’s since he was 16.
“He was upset about it, so he went down to City Hall and told them,” Normile said.
But it is too late to save the business, as the property has already been sold. Normile said he does not know what the plans for the building will be, though he thinks they will involve demolishing the shop.
“I imagine this time next year, it will be a whole lot different,” he said.
He sold his three wrecker trucks a few weeks ago, and his inventory will be sold at auction in a few weeks. Now, he plans to do “nothing” in his retirement, but he does plan on continuing to ride his bike.
“I hate it just to be forced. ... It’s a no-win situation,” Normile said. “With business not the way it used to be, and all this hanky-panky, it’s time to get out.”
JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.