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The Demise of the Local Gas Station

Longtime Rumson and Fair Haven resident Chris Brenner remembers a time when the two towns were flush with full-service gas stations. Tell us your stories about local gas stations and the owners that knew everybody's name.

Growing up in Rumson and living for Fair Haven for over 45 years, I find myself pointing out to my kids as we drive through town, what used to be this and that.

“Crazees used to be Dairy Queen” and “Video on the Ritz was a Cumberland Farms.”

Usually this is met with teenage eye-rolls, but something did occur to me the other day ...

What happened to all the gas stations?

Let’s take a little spin through the towns, and see if you remember all the gas stations that once were:

Rumson

• Corner of Ave of Two Rivers and Ridge Road, across from the Oceanic Library, is now a professional building. It was once was home to a Mobil station.

• Corner of River Road and Carton Street, up until recently Rumson China & Glass, once was an Aamoco station.

• Ridge Road, between Black Point Road and North Street, now a brick professional building, once was Gaynor’s Shell station.

• Corner of Ridge Road and North Street, currently an empty lot, once was a Gulf station.

• Corner of Bingham Avenue and River Road, now a real estate office, was once Pomphrey’s Citgo station.

Fair Haven

• Corner of River Road and Gillespie Avenue, currently Fair Haven (Two River) Animal Hospital, was a gas station. (You can still see the curbing left over.)

• Corner of River and Fair Haven roads, now shops, including Gourmet Picnic, was a gas station.

• Corner of River Road and Cedar Avenue, the Sunoco station that recently closed down.

• River Road, across from Acme, now Foreign Cars of Monmouth, sold gas.

So, that leaves two: Valero in Fair Haven, and Exxon in Rumson, from a field of that once included 11! (Let me know if I missed any.)

What happened to all these trusted local businesses that provided great service, and even gas-on-account?

As the rise of the American automobile pulsed through our area in the 40’s 50’s and 60’s, gas, oil, and repair were paramount — you needed someone that would care for your car on an ongoing basis.

The local, personalized service station took care of everything, from putting on snow tires to washing windshields with every fill up, checking oil and filling tires with air (for free!)

Most families had loyalties to a specific station (my Dad was a loyal visitor to Mr. Gaynor’s Shell station) Service was so good, Mr. Gaynor would drive to our house, pick up our car and take it to the station for an oil change, and bring it back!

It felt like a lot changed during the 1973 gas crisis. We all awoke to the fact that gas was a commodity. It was the first time I remembered going somewhere else for gas, because the little stations in town weren’t getting allocation. (Remember the red flags?)

Additionally, back then cars needed more repairs, and dealerships were not as focused on service and inclusive warranties as they are today.

In the 80‘s, the concept of leasing exploded, and that meant that owners turned cars over after just three or four years, before they needed serious repairs, and the cars themselves were becoming less serviceable — more computerized parts and sealed components meant dealer repairs only.

As a result, it appears that the repair business became less attractive, and it’s probably hard to make a living on the thin margins of just selling gas.

This once thriving local industry is shrinking. It is a sign of changing times, and improved technology in cars.

Got any local gas station memories? Share them in the comments section below.

Kate45 September 18, 2012 at 11:54 AM
I'm glad we don't have any more gas stations. The two left are price gouging us to death and should go out of business too. Do they think they can charge 20% higher than everywhere else and we'll be stupid enough to go to them? I'll never buy anything from them! Bye bye and good riddance.
MartinB September 18, 2012 at 11:57 AM
I agree Kate and to add to that I don't want a bunch of gas stations in the middle of our nice residential neighborhood. This wouldn't do anything but create more pollution, traffic, noise and lower our property values. I don't frequent either of the remaining stations because they are trying to rip us off.
JJP September 18, 2012 at 12:34 PM
I remember all of those gas stations and I'm glad they are gone. I also agree with the other comments here.
Bob McNulty September 18, 2012 at 01:32 PM
Anyone who has been around the RFH community since the '60s will remember "Greasy Al" McHugh's station on River Road in Rumson, Richie's Exxon in Rumson or Ray Miller's Exxon in FH. These guys were local residents and small business men trying to make a decent living. They didn't gouge anyone. Many customers were loyal to their guy and bought their tires and oil changes from these guys which built a relationship of trust. My folks knew they could go to these guys if they ever really needed them. Did everone forget the gas crisis? More than once I asked these guys for a wrench to fix my bike and they were kind enough to lend me one and to then yell at me when I used the wrench as a hammer. I miss this type of small town commerce and feel it has a value beyond the cost of gas. Gas stations don't make much profit from the gas, they make it on the add-ons like oil, tires, fluids, tuneups, etc. The price of a gallon of gas in the US is monsterously low and has led all of us down the road to a typically American sense of entitlement. If it was double we wouldn't drive as much and we would have good reason to buy a fuel efficient car. Low prices have led us to the insanity of Home Depot and Walmart. I say have local and buy local.
J.J.SHANAHAN September 18, 2012 at 01:56 PM
when you have to travel 20 miles for a tank of gas you just might change your opinion, or have a flat tire or dead battery...
AaronH September 18, 2012 at 02:19 PM
20 miles? I can drive to Sea bright or Middletown and pay 10-20% less than these price gouging parasites!
Samantha Basille September 18, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Personally I get my gas in Atlantic highlands. The prices in FH and Rumson are insane. I too could do without over priced 'local' convenience like this.
Mitch Cumstein September 18, 2012 at 02:36 PM
Rumson Exxon is a clean friendly FULL service station. They sell Gas - Repairs -Propane gas all centrally located. When businesses do not make money they close. Would anyone of us want a Big Box type mega station in their place. I would think not.
Thomas Danister September 18, 2012 at 02:57 PM
I dont think anyone wants a bigger station there they just want to be charged fairly. People realize pretty quickly when someone is unfairly overcharging. I vote with my wallet here too and could do without the place.
Sasha Gottfried September 18, 2012 at 06:13 PM
I grew up in Rumson in the 1950's-60's and I remember Al McCue's gas station on River Road in Rumson very well. My parents were devoted customers. He worked long hours and very hard. We knew we could trust him!
Ron Reiswig September 18, 2012 at 06:32 PM
I would be nice to able to use the local stations - but like the others mentioned here, they are just too much higher than stations located in other nearby areas. Does it cost more money to truck fuel into Rumson or Fair Haven? Building leasing higher... or just a convenience fee? In any case, I fill up elsewhere...which is Regrettable
Elaine Van Develde (Editor) September 18, 2012 at 06:51 PM
I think that was Chris' point, Ron. He is asking what happened to all the local stations, where the owners knew you and would not only fill up your car with gas, but look out for you by mentioning that your tires were low or your muffler sounded bad. Also, in a previous story about the vacant Sunoco, Mayor Lucarelli mentioned how it is very costly these days for small stations to survive as before, because the fuel companies charge much more to ride off major highways and into small towns to fill one or two stations rather than dozens on any given main thoroughfare. Yes, regrettable. Another example of the shrinking of the small business venue. I, personally, remember Ray Miller, at the Exxon, yelling at me to get my muffler fixed. When you went to these places, back in the day, you left with a feeling, albeit a little scary, that someone in town was looking out for you, not trying to rip you off. ;)
Sarah LK September 18, 2012 at 08:27 PM
Oh sure, Yelling at you to get your muffler fixed so he could collect the cash and charge you for something else he found.
Mitch Cumstein September 18, 2012 at 08:30 PM
Elaine I feel that way now at the Rumson Exxon. They service both of my vehicles. $4.09 for regular this morning vs Getty in the Atlantic Highlands was $3.75. Keep in mind Exxon is a brand name and I am sure Rumson Exxon can only buy from Exxon so to speak not an independent dealer.
Hanson Builders LLC September 18, 2012 at 09:10 PM
I love the way Chris pointed out that many factors contributed to the loss of these gas stations. Things have changed. The same could be said about lumber yards. Red Bank Lumber, Marine Lumber in Sea Bright, Chandler & Maps in Long Branch, American Lumber in Atlantic Highlands. All of these solid employers are gone. One of the reasons is our obsession with getting the lowest price. It has a consequence.
Sarah LK September 18, 2012 at 09:13 PM
And what is that consequence? Less commercial real estate in a residential area thereby increasing property values. Works for me!!!
Mike Sandion September 18, 2012 at 09:20 PM
Works for me too. I don't want any commercial real estate near my home. Fairhaven is good just the way it is and I could do without the remaining gas station.
Chris Brenner September 19, 2012 at 12:16 PM
In writing this, I really had no agenda about whether this change was good or bad, it just seemed interesting, and I wondered if anyone else had noticed the change. But since everyone brought it up, I'll leave a few final points to ponder: - Maybe the reason gas is more expensive at the last 2 standing is lack of competition? - if you want a community of all residences, expect much higher property taxes. The loss of business tax ratebles cripples small town governments. - is it really economical to drive 20 min, using gas, to save a few cents/gallon? - if what has been expressed here is true, then I feel bad for Harvey at the hardware store, or even the Acme, or Lairds, because Home Depot, Wegmans, and Staples are far less expensive.....but I can't walk to any of those, and Home Depot doesn't let the Cub Scouts weigh the Pinewood Derby cars, or give your dog a biscuit when you walk by. Those things do matter in shaping a community.
JosephGhabourLaw September 19, 2012 at 01:21 PM
This the natural economic change due to higher fuel prices and big companies now dominating the sale of gasoline. As stated, "fuel companies charge much more to ride off major highway." The trend in real estate is towards more walkable communities being the desired location. Ergo, locations at this location can't survive as a gas station. What towns have done, again with residents in the lead, is turned allowed the conversion of gas stations. A coffee shop, a small restaurant, are common conversions - and boost property values. This is an extreme example, but there are low-budget conversions: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/11/realestate/commercial/a-clean-new-life-for-grimy-gas-stations.html?pagewanted=all&_moc.semityn.www
Thomas Bruno September 20, 2012 at 09:43 AM
Imagine what will happen when we need electricity or natural gas for fuel. Both are more readily delivered via static infrastructure. There aren't gasoline lines pumping fuel down every neighborhood in America but there are wires and in many places gas lines. Over time the challenge the small stations have (even if they carry a name brand - franchisees only get the name not the lower supply costs) where their supply costs are higher than 'big box' gas stations along major roads will diminish. But that only changes one part of the economics. The bigger issue for family stations is the fact that fuel is a commodity. And commodity prices in general are at or just above cost. So if you have the overhead of rent on a plot of land, electricity, heating, employees to clerk the counter, you likely have to pull in a 15% margin over cost to just break even. It is hard to do that if you ONLY sell a commodity. Thus - family stations died when auto servicing went to the dealers. Really has little to do with the price of the commodity (they aren't gouging you by the way - if they were there would be gas stations on every available plot of land as the benefits of entry would exceed barriers to entry). It all comes down to how the markets are structured - if a business can't bundle commodities (low margin) with services/goods that subsidize them (high margin) everything becomes a commodity. Welcome to our increasingly sterile world where price matters above all.
Melanie (Reed) Woods September 20, 2012 at 10:22 AM
There used to be a Mobil gas station on the corner of River Road & Cedar Avenue, across the street from the now-defunct Sunoco. Sonny Hicks used to work there & repair our bicycles tires for free while we enjoyed 6oz glass Coca-Cola bottles from the Ten Cents Vending Machine.

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