2021 Business Spotlights
The Chamber has selected 13 businesses to shine a light on their origin stories and what unique qualities they bring to Willcox. We've sat down with the founders, owners, and coordinators and created short articles giving you not only a piece of Willcox's history but why you should invest in local businesses here.
Bodeda Pierce Winery and vineyard
Barbara and Dan's son Michael acquired their viticulture and enology degrees from Washington State University. He gained experience working for other wineries and vineyards in the US and around the world. They began their wine journey in 2011 on the Willcox Bench. Bodega Pierce highlights wines made exclusively from the 18 varieties of grapes grown at their family's 80-acre estate vineyard in Willcox. The wines are designed to express the high desert terroir of the Willcox Bench that they have found to be unsurpassed in producing spectacular world class wines. We aim to provide other Arizona wine drinkers with a consistent product over-delivers on quality.
Dan loves working the vineyard, watching the vines and grapes grow and mature. They are proud of being a family business. They are also proud of being awarded 2020 Arizona Wine Competition winner for Best White Wine for our 2019 Sauvignon Blanc Double Gold winner of 2017 Graciano, 2018 Petite Sirah and 2019 Sauvignon Blanc.
Lee's Pecans started when Jackie and Paul Lee began searching for a pretty place to build a house. When they did they decided to plant some trees as a retirement hobby. Producing was something they spoke about shortly after they met. They talked about different types of production – whether it be fruits, nuts, or something else and they decided that pecans would be the least demanding to produce. "They're more forgiving when it comes to the weather and we don't have to catch the nuts when we shake them to the ground. Other nut trees have to be protected from freezing, but our trees can hold up pretty well during the extreme weather conditions." Jackie says. Three or four months after Jack and Paul met each other, they planted their first trees. Jackie was living in San Diego county and Paul invited her to Willcox a couple of months before we got married – to see if she can work in the dirt. They spent the weekends planting trees. "He took a city girl and thought maybe she might make it on the farm...I must have passed the test, that was 39 years ago," Jackie says. The first four trees we named Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John. As the trees grew and needed more sunlight, they thinned the orchard and transplanted them – Mathew and Luke are still there. After starting with 500 trees, they now have a total of only 220. They had acquired the adjacent property and relocated some of the trees there. Other trees were transplanted to many locations for miles around where they are flourishing today.
"The weather and soil makes Willcox unique for pecan growing as well as the market for pecans . I moved here about 56 years ago before I started the business. I had some auto-parts businesses and just really loved the area, nice people. I wouldn't leave here not even for the end of the world. Willcox for life," says Paul.
"And Paul always did a little farming on the side - even when he had the business, so he was a natural. When he retired, he said I definitely want to have something to keep me busy. His love for farming went in the direction of pecan farming and we never looked back," says Jackie.
"We are proud of so many things. Everything. We are living our dream. I mean, what else could we want? And farming just keeps me healthy and fit," says Paul.
"My favorite part is being able to meet the people who come and visit our farm. We have met people from all over the world and the reward is what they share about their lives. When they want to ask questions and learn about the pecans it’s a big reward. It keeps us both very busy and very healthy. We're not sitting around wondering what to do. We don't post hours on our website because we never know when people are going to want to come by. I always encourage people to text or call to let me know when they are coming so that we can be available. I'd hate to have people come down from Phoenix or when they are passing through, and they start looking online to locate us and we’re not here. We are happy to have a wonderful, healthy place to live that just puts off good feelings. People will come here and comment on the peacefulness of being in the orchard. We are recognized by the Chamber of Commerce and the people of Willcox and that's all the recognition we need. I want to thank all of the friends and wonderful acquaintances that we have made from all over that have continued to praise our pecans and that have shared them with others to promote Lee’s Pecan Farm. They have helped us to grow into the terrific business that we are today," says Jackie.
"Visiting Lee's Pecans give people the opportunity to obtain the most wonderful tasting and nourishing pecans. Everyone enjoys learning about the process that’s involved with creating and producing them. Information and a tour are available when you visit. Folks tell us that it’s a beautiful and peaceful place for everyone to experience," says Jackie.
Encore Dance Academy
In 1966, the Encore Dance Academy was started by Betty Worley and then in 1980 her daughter Dina Ellis took over. She was Amy's dance teacher. Then Dina sold it to Katie Hill in 2003 and Amy was her instructor from then until she bought the business in 2017. Betty was from California; she was a professional dancer. She came here in 1966 owned a chain of dance studios, one here in Willcox, one in Morenci, and maybe 3 or 4 others elsewhere. Betty and her family had a farm out in Kansas Settlement and she travelled to each dance studio and taught there. "So, when people ask me why dance – because I was just 3 years old when I started - I asked my mom, "what made you want to put me in dance?" And she said, "well ever since you were walking you liked it." And I’d go with my grandparents to get my older cousin from her dance class and I couldn’t sit still, and I kept asking "when is it my turn? So that’s how I got started in dance," says Amy.
Willcox is her hometown, she was born and raised here and my family has deep roots. Her great grandparents were some of the first foreman on the Sierra Bonita Ranch. There is a long history on her side of the family. She married her high school sweetheart. "So it's been a place of opportunity for us. We moved away just for a short while and then we came back because we missed the simplicity and quiet atmosphere. We're raising our family....so we've had great opportunities here," says Amy.
"What makes its nice is in the city a lot of students wouldn't be able to do dance based on the economy. Dancing in the city costs a lot of money, so it's nice because out here we have something that gives everyone the opportunity to take classes. Though it's hard because we're a recreational studio and most of the time in the city it's not recreational, you have only your serious dancers that take 8 hours of dance a week. But it's nice that we’re able to do that here."
Encore Dance Academy has classes for kids as young as 2 and a half. here's tumbling classes for the kids who are about 3 years old and they do it based on primary, intermediate, advanced levels. They also have an adult tap class right now. They provide a class for the dancers that would like to experience more and be a little more serious about dance life The Encore Elite Dance Company dancers compete in competitions and take more than one hour of class a week. With COVID, there is a Google Meets service for students to attend classes virtually. You can set it up while the class is going and they can interact with the other kids.
"I am proud of the growth that we've experienced. The first year is hard because you’re switching the baton and you're either going have those that really don’t like change and those that are excited to continue. So it's kind of risky but we had experienced the greatest growth last year. Everything was going really well, then COVID hit. But it was a great accomplishment that we had since I became owner. So, it says a lot about the staff we have and the atmosphere that we've created. We had great students and families that came back when we were able to open and worked with us as things changed. My husband and I worked very hard at rebranding the studio. That's part of the great accomplishment and growth. It takes a lot of work to change something that has been here for over 50 years. We kept the good parts and revamped all the others. I think our greatest accomplishment is that we've been able to establish this as our own and make the kids feel like they are a part of something great," says Amy
"Well, they always say you learn how to dance before you walk. When young children learn how to dance it increases their knowledge of spatial awareness, physical, and sensory learning. It helps develop literacy and strengthens physical development. It helps develop cognitive learning, emotional maturity, and social awareness. For example, a mom put her little girl into dance 2 years ago because she had a speech impediment and has noticed that her speech had improved by being in dance from socializing and singing while dancing. The National Organization of Dance says that dance is the basis for educational learning. The boys that we've had in dance showed improved coordination. They come in and have 2 left feet but within 3 months their coordination is great. So I always try to tell parents that boys need to take dance to help them in football and basketball because that pas de bourree is the same thing you’re doing on the football field. I tell my boys if you were in tap you would know how to balance your weight on the football field and you wouldn't be so clumsy. I think a lot of parents might worry that their son is going to dance like girl, but boys dance masculine and girls dance feminine so when they come to dance, we will continue to teach them like a boy. But I recommend starting with ballet because it is the foundation to anything."
"After seeing the needs in the area, we want to create a non-profit. We have already kind of started it, it’s the Bar Up Foundation. This would allow us to give more to our students because as minimum wages increase, our costs increase and we're not a strong enough business to keep up with that. So if we have some extra help as a non-profit we can make sure to have on-hands staff that we need for the kids; the equipment, supplies for competitions, to maintain our gymnastics program and to keep tuition at a flat rate. As far as events, we're hoping that we can have our Spring Recital which we do every last weekend in May or the first weekend in June. Also our gymnastics program has their showcase usually in May. We weren't able to do that last year because everything had shut down at that point. So, we're hoping that this year we can do it if not, than at least we can do it outdoors."
Maid Rite Feeds
Cheryl Moss started Maid Rite Feeds in 1984 when she was 22 years old. She worked for Arizona Park Producers until they moved to Phoenix. She then had the opportunity to do bookkeeping for Maid Rite Feeds. "It was a new company that a few local hog farms started. They were buying there hog feed out of Texas, so they thought, why not make it here in Willcox. That was 37 years ago," says Cheryl. Cheryl's cousin Billy Thompson, started working for Maid Rite in 1986. With the both of them working there at their young ages, they fell in love with it and they grew with the business. "It was an easy transition and we knew nothing else," says Cheryl.
Maid Rite employs 19 people that are paid with full benefits. They have a rail spur that allows surrounding dairy’s/feedlots to bring in commodities that are not available in this state. They also buy local grain from the farmers and then turn it around a make feed for local ranchers. Maid Rite manufactures its own fresh feed. They have a retail store that they sell it through. They not only provide feed, but almost anything for your pets. They have amazing customer service too.
In 2005, Maid Rite Feeds became a family owned business. Billy (Shelley), David (Tina), (they are Cheryl's cousins), and Cheryl was offered to buy the business. With Billy & Cheryl working there most of their lives, they took the business and made it what it is today. "We have grown from 6 employees to 19 employees and a few more headaches, but we wouldn’t change it for anything," says Cheryl.
(520) 384 4688
Willcox Rock & Sand
Willcox Rock and Sand was started by Kelly Owen's grandparents, Keith and Margaret (Peggy as most people knew her) Gallagher Sr. With just one dump truck. Her father, Keith Jr. and his brothers, Robert and Bill worked with their dad, even as kids, eventually running the business. Peggy's grandfather was able to see the business move to their current location on Maley Street in 1991. You can still see where the business originally was on the corner of Bisbee and Parker on the south end of town. In 2011, Kelly and her husband Dwayne, along with Stephen and Shaye Klump purchased Willcox Rock and Sand. Last year they celebrated their 75th Anniversary for Willcox Rock and Sand Inc. "Historically, most businesses don't last 5 years, much less 75!!! This to us is a HUGE accomplishment that we want to see continue", says Kelly.
Kelly is a third generation Willcox resident, fourth in Cochise County. Her great grandparents homesteaded in Pearce, her grandfather being born there and living in Dos Cabezas when he was young, and moving into town sometime later. Dwayne and Kelly were both born here in Willcox and began dating in high school. They went away to college, Dwayne to UofA and Kelly to Western New Mexico University. They returned home after they graduated and got married. Both of their families are here. Kelly and Dwayne are small town people so they decided to stay in Willcox.
"Rock and Sand offers many kinds of aggregates from fine sand to large boulders. We produce our own material but also provide decorative rock from other sources. We provide ready mixed concrete as well as concrete finishing services for most concrete projects needed. Most concrete companies only sell the concrete. We try to provide many services under one roof including Dozer, Blade, Trenching, Backhoe and Skid Steer just to name a few. We try not to compete with Sierra Lumber or Ace, but we try and carry other products that they might not keep in stock such as culverts, concrete planters, splash blocks, flagstone, and more."
"We feel we have quality products and provide helpful customer service. We want to be a business that people want to come back to and know that they are cared about as a customer. Our reputation is important to us. We have been in Willcox for 75 years and people don't realize that we provide concrete. Come visit us and see how we can help with your projects or just come and take a look at everything that we provide."
Willcox Against Substance Abuse (WASA)
WASA (Willcox Against Substance Abuse) was birthed from the Arizona governor's office. There was a big nationwide grant, and Sally White was recruited because she had done a lot of volunteer things. The grant was for drug prevention that was primarily aimed for the youth but it had to be a partnership between the school, the police force, and the city. At one point there were over 90 alliances against drugs in Arizona. The first 5 years of WASA were totally government funded as long as it made clear what the money was going to be used for. The money was only for programming and the high/middle library school gave WASA an office. Sally did WASA for 32 years and she received a lot of training. She was able to go to DC several times, New Orleans, Phoenix to work with the governor's offices there. Although the first 5 years was entirely funded, they let WASA know that them was going to eventually move to grant funding. The funding trickled out over time and WASA had to become more and more on it’s own but those years were vital in building WASA’s foundation. Sally says, "I'm 74 and resigned now, it was time for me to back out and rest. But Alicia Hernandez (the current WASA coordinator) has my number, and she is welcome to call me if she needs me.”
WASA often faced challenges. Someone people came and go, and people’s feelings got hurt. Sometimes a program would crash because there's no longer somebody there that had the passion to keep it going. But they never put somebody in that didn’t know their subject very well. A huge contribution was that there was enough good funding for a while that it got stabilized. WASA was not a corporate sponsored group and depended on grants after its 5 years of funding ran out. “When it came time to write grants, we already had something to show for," says Sally. "That helped a lot. After those 5 years, WASA was funded by smaller grants, fund-raising activities, and generous donations from local citizens and organizations. The school providing facilities has been amazing too. If we were having to pay rent and utilities, WASA would have gone under years ago. Sometimes WASA didn't put any money, but instead would provide a venue and advertising. Despite the challenges, we stayed in business because it was truly about the youth. Deep down the community wants the kids to thrive.”
The main program that WASA lived by is its summer activities. It established youth court, which is a program that they developed with the help of Judge Hatch where the kids were able to do legal things like working with the judges and attorneys as well as sentencing their own peers. WASA has held an annual Halloween carnival for over 25 years, rented out the theater, provided free movie tickets for seniors on prom night, and hosted bird watching to give kids a sense of family so that they are not out in the streets doing drugs. “Your valedictorian will probably do fine wherever they go. Although I’m happy if they want to do something with us but they didn't need WASA. I am warmed by how many of the kids will come back and bring their kids to stop and say hello. Were we always successful? No, but the fact that we were able to help as many people as we did is an accomplishment. My heart is in prevention and helping them find something better to do. I prefer to be a referral for those who need intervention. What I can provide is a self-esteem program that you can learn and earn from. I know we've made a difference because there are kids that stay in touch with me. I've even talked kids into staying into school and not dropping out. Those are the experiences that speak to my heart," says Sally.
“My greatest success story was that of a little boy that was in first grade for the 3rd time. He had 4 siblings with him being next to the youngest, yet he was the one who would go to the nurse's office to make sure his brother had his mediation. There was no dad in the home and mom didn't speak much English. He had a lot of barriers. That particular year we had a WASA summer program and this kid just stole my heart. I worked with him and found programs that he could do. I would also get him to come to the office after school. I hired him for summer help as soon as he was old enough. WASA had message theater for several years and we took him to school all over the state to perform plays. We did message theater plays for a good 10 years. This young man had stage presence like you wouldn't believe and he loved it. He came to see me between his junior and senior year. He said, "Ms. White I'm thinking about not coming back to school." I replied, “no you can't, we've got you here and you’re a senior, you've got to stay.” He said, "I've been working in the fields, and I make $8 an hour, do you know how much that helps my mom?" I said to him, "but when you get older and you're still going to be working there and you'll still be making $8 an hour. Please stay in school." He said that he would love to go to college but there's no money and I encouraged him to look for scholarships. So we headed over to the educational assistant, who was also the drama director, for funding opportunities. The educational assistant asked me if the boy was good, and I said, "you don't want to give him a lead part that is complicated and has a lot to learn because he'll get frustrated from learning, but he has amazing stage presence. He will give you all he's got and he'll also put away props and sweep your floor afterwards.” I recommended him for a full ride scholarship, and he got it. He now lives in Tucson with his wife and 2 kids. He called me a few years ago to let me know that he has made salesman of the year at his job and won a vacation for his family. To see how much he struggled in elementary school, this was a big deal, says Sally.”
Sally hopes that WASA stays aware of the dangers of drug abuse. “It’s important to understand the things that lead children to drugs. WASA must always be growing and evolving with its drug prevention tactics. I have 5 kids and they refer to WASA as my 6th child. WASA has always been my baby and I hope that it can continue," says Sally. WASA is a 5013c, so any donations are always welcome and appreciated. Volunteers are always needed for our programs year-round. You can call Alicia Hernandez about getting involved.
(520) 384 8862
PO Box 741 Willcox AZ 85644