With closing gas station at Broadway Auto in Mystic, full-service stations continue decline
Mystic — With 30 or so years of habit built up, Alice Foley pulled past the cones and up to one of the gas pumps of the Gulf station at Broadway Auto on Thursday morning, and then waited for an attendant.
The gas station, after all, had been offering full service since 1951.
But from behind the counter inside, Broadway Auto owner Marlin Hoffman saw Foley arrive and sent an employee to inform her that gasoline no longer would be sold there.
“That’s very sad,” said Foley, 90. She would come to the full-service station every couple of weeks to gas up, and the “little extra” meant a lot to her.
Broadway Auto is still an auto service garage, and it will continue to check customers' oil and tires, but it will no longer sell gas. Aging tanks, fewer sales and the proliferation of self-service gas stations with adjacent convenience stores have shuttered many full-service stations in recent decades, with only a handful remaining in the area.
Hoffman’s tanks are 30 years old, and his recent decision to stop selling gas came because they would need to be replaced in a year. He said his insurance company canceled the tank liability and nobody would renew because the tanks are too old.
Hoffman estimated it would cost $20,000 to $30,000 to pull the tanks out of the ground and close to $250,000 to replace them. He would have considered spending the money on re-tanking if he owned the property, but he doesn’t.
He ran through the math: Broadway Auto sold about 800 gallons of gas a day on average, making about 20 cents per gallon, or $160. After payroll and credit card fees, there isn’t much money left. He makes his money on auto repairs.
The closure is a bummer for Gerry Keutman, 82, who has been trying to consolidate her appointments and services in Mystic after moving here from North Stonington.
Less than a mile down the road, Jim Sullivan's Sunoco station in Mystic experienced a similar fate. Sullivan’s is still a full automotive repair shop, but it stopped selling gas in October 2016, when the tanks were 30 years old and needed to be replaced.
“With the taxes and the cost of minimum wage and what you make on it, it wasn’t worth it,” Sullivan said.
But it was something he hated to do.
With Connecticut's high taxes, he said, he was paying almost as much for wholesale gas here as he'd pay for retail gas in Rhode Island. When he looks at the gas tax system, he suspects his father, who built the 48 Stonington Road building in 1950, is “probably rolling over in his grave.”
When he stopped selling gas, Sullivan put a note on his door telling his customers to go to Broadway Auto. As with Hoffman, Sullivan’s sales were down to about 800 gallons a day.
“Gas stations that sell smaller amounts of gas per day or per year, they just don’t have the volume to be able to afford the change,” said Brian Morrone, vice president of Ginger’s Oil Co. in Westerly.
His company operates a full-service Citgo station, and Morrone estimates it sells about 7,000 gallons of gas a day. Morrone said his tanks need to be replaced in the spring of 2019, and he “will definitely be doing that.”
He sees full service as being particularly beneficial for elderly people, and on rainy and snowy days. Ginger’s has been in Morrone’s family for 77 years, and the 46-year-old has been pumping gas since he was 13 or 14.
“I'm very lucky to have just some great employees as well that really enjoy what they do,” he said. “It's very social, too, for the guys, because it's the same people that come all the time.”
Another full-service station in the region is Guy’s Oil Service in Niantic. Owner Richard Gada Sr. said he probably sells about 2,500 gallons a day and said to his knowledge, the business will probably never change from full service.
But Gada said he has seen full service go by the wayside with convenience stores coming in, noting that clerks are just inside selling foodstuffs and running the computer for the pumps, technology that has made self service easier.
Two miles away on Pennsylvania Avenue, Trakas’ Sunoco Mini Mart is unique as a convenience store that is mostly self service but offers one full-service lane, which has an upcharge in the cost per gallon.
“We’ve had full service since 1931, when my grandparents started in the business, so that’s why we didn’t eliminate that,” manager Dan Trakas said. “It’s not huge volume, but I do see some people — professionals, or other people — who take advantage of the full service.”