Of cars and caring

Diné entrepreneur ready to give back

Man on back under car with flashlight.

Special to the Times | Ray Landry
O’Neil Bileen works on a car at his business, TC Automotive in Farmington, last Thursday. TC is donating up to $1,000 in car repair to a needy family.

DURANGO, Colo.

There’s a lot of gratitude going around this week. But according to O’Neil Bileen, you don’t know what gratitude is until your small business survives its first year.

Bileen, who opened TC Auto Repair in Farmington back in March, is grateful enough that he wants to give back to his community by offering up to $1,000 in car repairs to a needy family.

Bileen, 32, born for Bit’ahnii (“Sorry, that’s the only one of my clans I know”) found himself at loose ends early this year when the repair shop he had worked for for 10 years closed its doors. “I tried to take over the shop,” he recalled, “but there were all these complications. It just wasn’t meant to be.”

Bileen was discouraged at first, but then he started thinking about it. Don Robbins Auto couldn’t be the only defunct garage in Farmington in need of a shiny new owner. This time, it was meant to be.

“It’s like one week I was sitting there unemployed, and the next week I was a business owner,” Bileen recalled. “I had a few bucks saved, not a whole bunch. The guy we got the shop from worked with us. My family and friends helped me out. It all just came together.” Bileen’s father, Wesley Bileen, had owned the Pennzoil distributor in Shiprock, so Bileen had some idea what he was getting into. “My dad was 37 when he opened his shop,” noted Bileen. “I beat him by five years.”

Bileen also knew a substantial number of small businesses fail (although, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a surprising 80 percent make it through their first year). Bileen’s friend Brittney Touchin offered to do the marketing for the startup. “Those first few months,” she recalled, “we just hoped and prayed it would be a go.”

Several of Bileen’s colleagues from Don Robbins Auto followed him to the new shop, TC (for “Too Cool”) Automotive Repair, and Bileen worried about making payroll.

Things started off slow but steady. Then, on March 20, the Farmington Times did a story on the young entrepreneur. “Once that hit, it just took off,” recalled Bileen. “People came from miles around to get their cars serviced here, especially Navajos who wanted to support a Navajo owned and operated business.” (Bileen describes his crew as “four Navajos and a white guy.”)

TC immediately started to show appreciation to its customers with weekly giveaways and a Customer Appreciation Day, but for the holidays Bileen and Touchin decided to go big. “There are so many people out there who are being held back because they can’t afford to have their vehicles repaired,” Billeen said. “We’re looking for someone who maybe can’t get their kids to school, who can’t travel for the holidays … This is going to be based entirely on need.”

The winning entrant will get up to $500 in labor and $500 in parts. “The only thing is, they have to get the car to us somehow,” Bileen said.

To nominate someone for the prize, email TooCoolAutoRepair@yahoo.com. List your name, phone number and why your nominee deserves the award. A winner will be chosen Dec. 1.


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Categories: Community

About Author

Cindy Yurth

Cindy Yurth is the Tséyi’ Bureau reporter, covering the Central Agency of the Navajo Nation. Her other beats include agriculture and Arizona state politics. She holds a bachelor’s degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University with a cognate in geology. She has been in the news business since 1980 and with the Navajo Times since 2005, and is the author of “Exploring the Navajo Nation Chapter by Chapter.” She can be reached at editor@navajotimes.com.