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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.

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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