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Route 66 News

Tee Pee Curios gets new owners

The historic Tee Pee Curios souvenir shop, made famous by its tepee-shaped entrance and elaborate neon sign, reportedly will gain its first new owners in decades.

Gar and Heidi Engman of Fort Dodge, Iowa, reportedly are signing the papers this morning to take over the Tucumcari, N.M., business on Route 66.

According to their Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, Gar is president of Hawkeye Painting Co. in Fort Dodge. Heidi was an administrative assistant and social media director at the City of Fort Dodge until July.

In fact, it’s clear Heidi has put those social-media skills to good use, setting up a Facebook page for Tee Pee Curios less than 24 hours ago. A post on the page today said “we are finalizing the sale and other details but we will be open as soon as we can.”

Here’s a screen grab of a photo of the Engmans with two of their children at the Tee Pee in June:

Longtime Tee Pee owner Mike Callens and his wife Betty had the business for sale the past few years, but kept it low-key. Mike Callens is a Tucumcari native who bought the store about 1985.

According to RoadsideArchitecture.com, Tee Pee Curios (often listed as TeePee) was built in 1944 as a Gulf gas station, grocery, and souvenir shop. When Route 66 was widened in 1959, the tepee entrance was added and the pumps removed. The neon sign arrived during the 1960s.

I’m scheduled to talk to the Engmans by phone sometime this evening. I’ll update this post sometime after that.

UPDATE: Heidi Engman said in a telephone interview Thursday evening that a honeymoon in May 2012 at the nearby Blue Swallow Motel planted the seed of buying Tee Pee Curios.

“We fell in love with Tucumcari, I guess,” she said. “There’s something about it. We see a lot of potential here.”

She said another chat with Callens in June this year persuaded him to sell the business to the Engmans.

Now that Heidi has taken over the Tee Pee’s operations, she said one of the first things she’ll do is “turn on the neon sign every night. That’s what the travelers want to see. We want people to know we’re open.”

The Tee Pee will be open at 9 a.m. to about 8 p.m. daily except for Sundays. On that day, Heidi says it will open in the early afternoon, after church hours.

On Heidi’s possible to-do list is a “signature” Tee Pee Curios T-shirt, more tepee-related merchandise, offering shipping to customers, and a dedicated website.

Gar will return to Iowa for a few months to transition his painting business to one of his adult sons from a previous marriage. In the meantime, Heidi says she’s willing to prepare for some “hard times” until the business gets re-established.

“We’re here for the long haul,” she said. “I gave up a municipal job to do this, so we’ve made a large commitment to make this work.”

UPDATE 8/3/2013: Mike and Betty Callens emailed this parting message today:

(Image of Tee Pee Curios by Pete Zarria, via Flickr)

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11 thoughts on “Tee Pee Curios gets new owners

  1. Jen

    I’ll be interested to hear their plans for the shop…and hope the neon is all lit up next time we’re in Tucumcari. 🙂

  2. redforkhippie

    Welcome to the family! 🙂 I’ll be out there to meet you as soon as I can shake free for a 14-hour-each-way road trip. (In the meantime, don’t let anybody buy that Bob Waldmire photo if it’s still there.)

  3. Gar Engman

    Mike and Betty are the best! I thank them so much for allowing us this opportunity. They have been so helpful and looking forward to being new neighbors and friends.

  4. Penny Black

    Route 66 Roadies everywhere are extremely happy to hear that the Callens left the icon in great hands. Welcome to the “Main Street Of America”! I’m lookin’ forward to meeting you all.
    ~Penny Black

  5. Marty

    I was just there this week, I had a good time talking to the owner. The prices were not to high either. Great place to stop even if your not staying in Tucumcari.

  6. Jim Bryan

    Met Gar and Jim on a road trip this month. Laughed and laughed!! Oh, and made a couple of purchases also. Great shop, great pricing, outstanding customer service. One of the many high points of the trip!!! Best of luck!!!

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