What happened to rural gas stations in the US?

What happened to rural gas stations in the US?


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When driving on the rural byways of the rural Midwest one will find gas stations scarce. But if you look closely enough, in every town, down to the tiniest of unincorporated ones, you will find a place where a gas station once was. Sometimes the building is still there either being used for another propose or simply derelict. Sometimes the lot is empty and the only remaining trace is a small, oval-shaped concrete divider which obviously supported a gas pump at one time.

In the larger towns with more than about 3000 residents the small gas stations have been replaced by larger convenience store gas stations. But in the smaller towns the gas stations have disappeared altogether with no fuel available at all.

If anything our consumption of petroleum has increased by many times. When did these stations begin disappearing? What happened in the oil industry or American culture that made these businesses no longer viable?


Why have rural gas stations vanished? Because business conditions have changed: my grandfather built a small gas station in 1921 at Six Mile and Livernois, near Detroit, on a corner of his father's farm.

In those days tires needed to be patched or replaced every thousand miles or so, and there were many other small services that had to be performed on every vehicle. My grandfather had been trained as a mechanic, courtesy of the US Army, with years of service between 1914 and 1920. In those days every gas station also had a mechanic, and it was typically owned and operated by the same person.

This business model changed in the 1950/1960 time period, with the rise of large-volume, corporate-owned service stations. This was partially due to the rise of the Interstate highway system, but also by the improved reliability of the automobiles driven by the public.

Today it is uncommon to find a service station with a garage and a mechanic, and for most of us we seldom have to change a tire - the tread is good for 40,000 or more miles. Up until 1960 3,000 miles was a good tire, then it went flat, you took it off, patched the inner tube, pumped it up, put it back on, and off you went. But I haven't had to replace a tire while driving… for a very long time, probably since 1975.

So to summarize:

  1. Stations used to be run by owner/operators
  2. Automobiles required fuel and service, and at much more frequent intervals
  3. Improved gas mileage requires fewer fueling stations, and further apart
  4. Progress has a price

In addition, many operations became nonviable during WW II due to the fuel and tire shortages, which lead to their closures.


Chain stores (franchises or otherwise aligned with chains) do deals with the oil companies and the owner operator is offered worst deals. The chain stores have advantages in gas price (which could be sold at a loss and the other stuff marked up ) which eventually drives the gas only and/or independent owner operated businesses out of businesses.


One other reason for the disappearing gas station is - vehicles have become far more reliable, and far less demanding of routine maintenance. Most of those mom and pop stations made their real money on maintenance and repair. Which is why they've been replaced by mini-markets.

Even into the early 70's, tires would last maybe 20k miles, and were far more prone to punctures. The onset of radial tires plus increased content of carbon black in tires now gives them upwards of 80k mile life, and it's extremely rare to get a flat any more, so much so that the full size spare tire in a car is now quite rare.

Spark plugs used to last maybe 10k miles. Thanks to unleaded fuel, they now last over 100k miles.

Same with brakes… 20k-30k miles used to mean a complete brake overhaul. Today… 100k on the original brakes is not uncommon.

Electronic ignitions eliminate another high maintenance point of pre 1980's cars: points and condensers.

For that matter, cars themselves tend to last longer. A pre-1970 car, at 100k miles, was expected to be in need of an engine overhaul. The interval was shorter for air cooled engines like the VW Beetle. Today, the better cars can go over 200k miles with no major engine work.

The one maintenance issue that's still regular is oil changes, which is why we see instant oil change outlets everywhere.


The EPA requirements put most mom & pop gas stations out of business LUST= Leaking Underground Storage Tanks = lots of contamination


Gas stations in the U.S. - Statistics & Facts

Speedway and Circle K hold the most significant market shares for motor fuel stations and stores in the United States. Both brands generate most of their revenue from fuel sales, with Speedway recording just under seven billion U.S.dollars in fuel sales, and five billion U.S. dollars in merchandise sales. Circle K, under parent corporation Alimentation Couche-Tard, recorded 28 billion in revenue from road transportation fuel sold in the United States and ten billion U.S. dollars in merchandise sales.

Of the leading fuel station brands, Speedway has the most gas stations in the United States, with 2,866 as of 2018. Circle K had almost 4,500 stations in 2017, but that number dropped to 1,625 in 2018.

The brand of motor fuel most frequently sold in the United States is Shell. The United States is a growing source of revenue for Royal Dutch Shell, which had 388 billion U.S. dollars in revenue worldwide in 2018. Other prominent motor fuel brands sold in the United States include Exxon Mobile, Speedway, Chevron, and BP.

Speedway saw a large volume of customers in 2018, the most of any of the top fuel and convenience retailers in the United States. Most people at gas stations pay with their debit cards, perhaps to keep track of their day-to-day expenses.

This text provides general information. Statista assumes no liability for the information given being complete or correct. Due to varying update cycles, statistics can display more up-to-date data than referenced in the text.


Contents

Cities Service period Edit

The company traces its heritage back to the early 1900s and oil entrepreneur Henry Latham Doherty. [6] After quickly climbing the ladder of success in the manufactured gas and electric utility world, Doherty in 1910 created Cities Service Company to supply gas and electricity to small public utilities. He began by acquiring gas-producing properties in the mid-continent and southwest.

The company then developed a pipeline system, tapping dozens of gas pools. To make this gas available to consumers, Doherty moved to acquire distributing companies and tied them into a common source of supply. Cities Service became the first company in the mid-continent to use the slack demand period of summer to refill depleted fields near its market areas. Thus, gas could be conveniently and inexpensively withdrawn during peak demand times. In 1931, Cities Service completed the nation's first long-distance high-pressure natural gas transportation system, a 24-inch pipeline 1,000 miles long from Amarillo, Texas to Chicago.

A logical step in the company's program for finding and developing supplies of natural gas was its entry into the oil business. This move was marked by major discoveries at Augusta, Kansas, in 1914, and in El Dorado a year later. In 1928, a Cities Service subsidiary, Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company, discovered the Oklahoma City field, [7] one of the world's largest. Another participated in the discovery of the East Texas field, which, in its time, was the most sensational on the globe.

Over three decades, the company sponsored the Cities Service Concerts on NBC radio. The long run of these musical broadcasts was heard on NBC from 1925 to 1956, encompassing a variety of vocalists and musicians. In 1944, it was retitled Highways in Melody, and later the series was known as The Cities Service Band of America. In 1964, the company moved its headquarters from Bartlesville, Oklahoma, to Tulsa.

At the height of Cities Service's growth, Congress passed the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935, which forced the company to divest itself of either its utility operations or its oil and gas holdings. Cities Service elected to remain in the petroleum business. The first steps to liquidate investments in its public utilities were taken in 1943 and affected over 250 different utility corporations.

At the same time, the government was nearing completion of a major refinery at Rose Bluff just outside Lake Charles, Louisiana, which would become the foundation of the company's manufacturing operation. Using designs developed by Cities Service and the Kellogg Co., the plant was dedicated only 18 months after groundbreaking. A month before Allied troops landed in France, it was turning out enough 100-octane aviation gasoline to fuel 1,000 daily bomber sorties from England to Germany. Government funding through the Defense Plant Corporation (DPC) also prompted Cities Service to build plants to manufacture butadiene, used to make synthetic rubber, and toluene, a fuel octane booster and solvent.

In the years that followed, Cities Service grew into a fully diversified oil and gas company with global operations. Its green, expanding circle marketing logo became a familiar sight across much of the nation. During this time CEOs such as W. Alton Jones and Burl S. Watson ran the company.

Cities Service Company inaugurated use of the Citgo brand in 1965 (officially styled "CITGO") for its refining, marketing and retail petroleum businesses (which became known internally as the RMT Division, for Refining, Marketing and Transportation). CITGO continued to be only a trademark, and not a company name, until the 1983 sale of what had been the RMT Division of Cities Service to Southland Corporation (now 7-Eleven Inc.).

Demise of Cities Service and birth of Citgo Petroleum Corporation Edit

In 1982, T. Boone Pickens, founder of Mesa Petroleum, offered to buy Cities Service Company. Citgo responded by offering to buy Mesa, which was the first use of what became known as the Pac-Man take-over defense i.e., a counter-tender offer initiated by a takeover target. Cities Service also threatened to dissolve itself by incremental sales rather than being taken over by Mesa, stating that it believed that the pieces would sell for more than Pickens was offering for the whole. Cities Service Company located what they thought would be a "white knight" to give them a better deal and entered into a merger agreement with Gulf Oil Corporation. Late in the summer of 1982, Gulf Oil terminated the merger agreement claiming that Cities Service's reserve estimates were over-stated. Over fifteen years of litigation resulted. (For a more detailed discussion of the Cities Service vs. Gulf Oil litigation, see Gulf Oil#Demise.) Ironically, two years later, Gulf Oil itself would collapse as a result of a Pickens-initiated takeover attempt.

In the chaos that ensued after Gulf Oil's termination of its deal, Cities Service eventually entered into a merger agreement with, and was acquired by, Occidental Petroleum Corporation—a deal that was closed in the fall of 1982. That same year, Cities Service Company transferred all of the assets of its Refining, Marketing and Transportation division (which comprised its refining and retail petroleum business) into the newly formed Citgo Petroleum Corporation subsidiary, to ease the divestiture of the division, which Occidental had no interest in retaining. Pursuant to an agreement entered into in 1982, Citgo and the Citgo and Cities Service brands were sold by Occidental in 1983 to Southland Corporation, original owners of the 7-Eleven chain of convenience stores.

Venezuelan ownership Edit

Fifty percent of Citgo was sold to Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) in 1986, which acquired the remainder in 1990, resulting in the current ownership structure. [8] In September 2010, in connection with the centennial of its original owner, Cities Service Company, Citgo unveiled a new retail design. [9] Within five years, Citgo planned for all locations to display the new street image. [10] With full ownership of Citgo, PDVSA at its peak controlled 10% of the US domestic oil market, creating a lucrative export chain from Venezuelan soil to American consumers, [ citation needed ] as the two largest buyers of Venezuelan petroleum are the United States and China, respectively. [11]

In October 2010, then President of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, announced the intention to have PDVSA sell its Citgo subsidiary calling it a "bad business" and citing low profits since 2006. The minimum sale price was set at 10 billion US dollars however, PDVSA has been unable to find a buyer at that price. [12] [13] [14] It was confirmed in January 2015 that Citgo would not be sold, but rather bonds were sold by Citgo to give a dividend to PDVSA. [15] The Bonds sold included a $1.5bn five-year bond and a $1.3bn term loan to be fully repaid in three and a half years. [16] [17]

In November 2017, six executives working for Citgo, including five American citizens, were arrested while attending a meeting at the headquarters of PDVSA in Caracas, and as of June 2020 remained imprisoned without consular access and without a trial. [18] [19] [20] Although granted house arrest in Venezuela in December 2019, the six men were transferred to harsher conditions in El Helicoide prison following U.S. President Donald Trump's hosting of opposition leader Juan Guaido at the 2020 State of the Union Address. [21] [22] Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for their release on humanitarian grounds, stating that they were "wrongfully detained" and that they had been incarcerated without evidence presented against them for over two years. [23]

Other Venezuelan oil executives were arrested in what was seen as a purge designed to bolster more economic power behind President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, [24] Asdrúbal Chávez, cousin of late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, was installed as president of Citgo in November 2017. [25]

Citgo also has a much earlier connection to Venezuela, dating to the turn of the 20th century. Predecessor Warner-Quinley Asphalt's principal business was competition to the "Asphalt Trust" by means of a bitumen resources concession it held in Venezuela. [26]

Crisis in Venezuela Edit

Following the death of Hugo Chávez in 2013, his successor Nicolás Maduro presided in office through an era of economic depression caused by decreasing oil prices and sanctions. [27] [28] [29] The destabilized economy resulted in hyperinflation, an economic depression, shortages in Venezuela and drastic increases in poverty, disease, child mortality, malnutrition, and crime. [30] [31] [32] [33] As a result of the crisis, Venezuela's debt to China and Russia – two political allies – increased. [34] Due to the financial burden of this debt, Venezuela offered Citgo as collateral for Russian debt in 2016, raising the possibility that the Russian government could own Citgo due to Venezuela's high risk of default. [34]

In July 2018, Citgo president Asdrúbal Chávez had his work and tourist visas revoked by the United States and was ordered to leave the country within thirty days. [35]

2019 U.S. Sanctions Edit

On January 28, 2019, the U.S. Government imposed sanctions on PdVSA, freezing any assets they have in the U.S., and barring any U.S. firms and citizens from doing business with it. [36] [37] [38] In February, Citgo cut ties with the PdVSA, and halted payments to them, placing them in a "blocked account". However, the sanctions limited Citgo's ability to refinance debt. In March, at the behest of the U.S. Treasury, 35 financial institutions secured a $1.2 billion loan to fund Citgo's daily operations and refinancing, allaying concerns about Citgo's ability to continue operating in the U.S. [5] [39] [40] [41]

On June 6, 2019, the U.S. Treasury expanded the sanctions, clarifying that exports of diluents to Venezuela could be subject to sanctions. [42]

2016 Rosneft loan Edit

In a 2016 deal, Venezuela pledged 49.9% of Citgo to Russian oil firm Rosneft as collateral for a $1.5 billion loan. [43] Both Republicans and Democrats in the United States urged oversight on this deal, describing Citgo's sale to Russia as a risk to the national security of the United States. [34]

2020 bond Edit

In 2020, Citgo borrowed money in the form of a bond, and used 50.1% of the company's equity as collateral. If the bond is not repaid, the institutional investors that lent the money will obtain ownership of the 50.1%. [44]


On Back Roads, It's Stop, Chat and, Oh Yeah, Fill ɾr Up

IT'S a breezy summer afternoon and you have decided to venture off the main roads, perhaps in search of antiques. You're so diverted that it takes a while to realize that the gas gauge is perilously close to empty.

On a major highway, there would probably be a service station a few miles ahead, a digital gas pump and a slot for a cash card, maybe even a fast-food court and a souvenir shop where the children could get a bucket of cholesterol and some plastic dinosaurs.

But what about the back roads?

Here and there, throughout Connecticut, are a sprinkling of rural, family-owned gas stations. Their numbers dwindle every year, but they're out there, a little slice of Americana.

Three generations of the Wieser family have run the Old Bluebird Garage and Inn on Route 58 in Easton. The Round Hill Store in Greenwich, with its gas pumps out front, just celebrated its 200th anniversary, and Rizzo's, the tiny cinder block gas station and general repair shop in Sherman, is still going strong. The personalities of these little businesses may make them destinations in themselves.

If you're wandering around Wilton and leave Route 7 in search of kinder scenery, you may end up on Westport Road. A couple of miles later is the Country Store, a big green clapboard house with a long porch and an adjoining liquor store.

There are two pumps on the diagonal where customers can pump their own gas, but they have to come inside to pay. The regulars spend some time outside, leaning against a car or a pickup truck, passing the time of day. Sooner or later, they wander inside to get coffee or something to eat.

''I know all my regular customers by name,'' said the woman behind the counter. She is Alicia Connelly, and she owns and runs the Country Store with her husband, Michael, and her mother, Nancy Curley. The store and gas station have been there since 1940. Don Frieday owned the place until six years ago, when he sold it to the Connellys and moved to Florida.

''I started working here when I was 18,'' Mrs. Connelly said. ''It's like family here. My maid of honor works here. My husband works here. We bake our own cookies and banana bread and brownies.''

She looks up, sees a customer approach and automatically reaches for a hard roll. ''No one has to tell us what they want.''

Places like the Country Store are fast becoming extinct.

''Part of it is just the rising costs of doing business,'' said Michael Devino, president of Mercury Fuel in Waterbury, another small family-owned business. ''There are laws at both the state and federal level about ground pollution and vapor recovery, and small businesses can't afford to comply. There isn't even a grandfather clause for them.''

The major oil companies may be reluctant to supply the smaller stations.

''The big oil companies don't want to supply the little guy anymore,'' Mr. Devino said. ''There's no money in it. So smaller distributors like us, we pick them up.''

''The store supports the gas pump operation,'' Bill Tustian said. Mr. Tustian and his wife, Fiona, bought the Easton Village Store on Route 58 from two brothers who had owned and operated it since 1923.

''It was pretty run-down,'' Mrs. Tustian said. ''We restored the buildings, we had to put in new tanks that complied with the environmental protection laws, but it was worth it to us. A neighborhood place where you can come in, sit down and meet people is becoming lost in this country.'

Besides a friendly tank of gas and a cup of coffee, the Tustians offer fresh baked goods, takeout dinners, deli sandwiches, fresh flowers and home-grown vegetables. There are outdoor tables and live music on Friday nights.

''We want to expand out back,'' said Mr. Tustian, referring to a sagging building of wooden slats and some land crying for attention. With a little vision, it's a place for dining alfresco and blossoming fruit trees.

Christie's has been part of the landscape on Cross Highway since 1926, when Anthony Masiello's wife, Christie, opened a roadside stand to sell vegetables.

''It was all farmland along here back then,'' said her nephew Richard Masiello, gesturing to a street now lined with luxurious homes. ''There were just two pumps in front of a little store, until 1956, when we remodeled and added another building for the garage.''

That garage remains, leased, managed and loyally tended by Klaus Nerz for the last 10 years. 'ɼhristie had just passed away when I first came here,'' Mr. Nerz said. 'ɻut I can still pick the blackberries she planted along the side of the garage.''

Last spring, Mike Vaysman and Boris Roytburd took over the property. Mr. Vaysman says they are serving a better grade of coffee, re-opening the ice cream stand and bringing in fresh fruits and vegetables. There'll be takeout dinners and a salad bar and pizza, and they say they will stay open later in the evening.

''I want to bring the local people back,'' he said. ''It's all for the people.''

His insistence on this point is especially moving when you realize that Mr. Vaysman and Mr. Roytburd are Russian. They waited 16 years for a visa to enter the United States.

Those who run out of gas in Easton might end up at the corner of Route 136 and Center Road across from the Congregational Church. If so, they can coast into the one-pump gas station owned by Richard Greiser and his family.

Outside, there are some old-fashioned, nonworking crank gas pumps lined up, presumably for sale, but Mr. Greiser can't seem to part with them. There is also a working gas pump, but no mechanics. ''Just gas,'' Mr. Greiser said.

Inside the store is a catch-all assortment of goods: canned goods, cat food, detergent and aspirin. At the counter are fresh-baked brownies, carrot cake and cookies. Deli sandwiches are for sale.

In a back room is an antiques store with an eclectic inventory: a juke box, old furniture like ladder-back chairs and a parlor table, and smaller treasures tucked into the corners of old desks and on tabletops.

The store also has an A.T.M., a stack of newspapers and a rack of postcards.

This is the quintessential mom and pop shop. Mr. Greiser was born in the apartment upstairs, and the place was run by his father and his grandfather before him. The other half of the building is the post office, where his wife, Toni, works.

''I have to keep on eye on him,'' she said when she popped in unannounced.

One regular customer is Dennis Banks, who runs the La Pampa Polo Club nearby. ''Richard is the soul of Easton,'' he said, adding with a laugh: ''He's a gentleman and an intellectual. He challenges us customers. You better be ready for mental combat to get a sandwich here.''

Then he added: ''He's special, this guy. He cares about people. When he found out that I was alone for Easter, he invited me to join his family for dinner.''

Mr. Greiser says the old-fashioned rural gas station and country store combination is a thing of the past.

''Nobody wants to work in a place like this anymore,'' he said. His daughter Emily, working at the counter, heard him but did not look up. ''My kids are going to college, and the local kids don't want to work for minimum wage.''

The owner of the Roxbury Market thinks differently.

''I never have trouble getting people to work here,'' said Bob Capone, who has owned the Roxbury Market for three years, in a building that has been there for more than 80. ''Maybe it's because we are so far away from the big towns, and they prefer to work close to home.''

The market is one of four or five buildings that make up 'ɽowntown Roxbury,'' which has been named a historic district. The Market is cozy and homey, with a buffet table, coffee and a cappuccino machine.

As at other small stations, the sale of gas is secondary, only a convenience. The pumps at Roxbury Market are old. ''No place to run your credit card through,'' Mr. Capone said. ''Got to do it the old-fashioned way.''

Old-fashioned is what people feel when they walk into the little convenience store at Bull's Bridge in South Kent. Although the original pumps have been replaced by modern red and white ones, three old buildings remain on the property.

The house where Mary Ellen Nelson grew up, a hulking two-story gray clapboard with a porch, was moved back from the road and is now used as offices. The old Bull's Bridge Inn, which is said to have been there since the 1700's, is quaint and tidy. The original gas station-garage is now a general store.

''My dad bought the gas station from Allan Frisk back in 1934,'' Ms. Nelson said. ''It was just a gas station, and we fixed cars. We didn't have a store then, but we had a Coke machine, and we kids thought that was pretty wonderful.''

Lynn Harrington, another Bull's Bridge local, eyed the place for years before the previous owner was ready to sell. ''I bought the gas station and store on April 2, 1998,'' she said. 'ɺ great day.''

Further up the road that goes through Kent is a nondescript building with no sign, and a couple of gas pumps that look as if they work. Motorists who plan to fill up, pay up and get going may change their minds once they step inside.

There's automobile racing memorabilia on the walls, as well as spare parts and race-car fuel for sale here. Racing enthusiasts -- fans, drivers and professional racers -- frequent the place. Professionals and amateurs trade stories about adventures and calamities at Lime Rock Race Track, which is a few miles down the road.

Joann Dethier, a retired mortgage banker, owns the place, whose unlikely name is the Berkshire Country Store. She hired a retired French chef to operate the kitchen, and all the food is made fresh. She caters to the racing teams, photographers, reporters and camera crews who frequent the track, and often serves 300 to 400 people in a 12-hour day.

''It looks kind of rinky-dink on the outside,'' said her husband, Walter, a professional race car driver. 'ɻut you got to walk inside.''

There aren't many left. The highway minimarts with self-serve digital gas pumps, vapor recovery sleeves and lottery ticket dispensers are taking over. But the independent rural gas stations aren't history yet.


America’s Gas Stations Are Running Out of Time

Pity America’s gas station owners. They may not be with us for much longer.

Yes, despite the recent spike in the price of oil, gas still remains historically cheap. And Americans are buying plenty of cars that consume lots of gas, and they are driving many more miles than they were a couple of years ago.

But gas stations have been in decline for decades. Between 1994 and 2013, the number of retail fueling sites in the U.S. fell from 202,800 to 152,995—a 25 percent decline. In 2015, the number had slipped to about 150,000. (See page 31 of this report from the National Association of Convenience Stores.) And with several powerful megatrends arrayed against them, there are signs that their numbers could shrink significantly in coming years.

Let’s start with gentrification. (And this is the good news.) In many urban areas, gas station owners are finding it simply doesn’t make economic sense to keep selling gasoline—for reasons having nothing to do with demand for their product. As America’s great cities revitalize and attract more wealth, land is becoming exceedingly expensive. In many cities, and especially in New York, a gas station falls far down on the list of the best things to do with a piece of land. Owners realize they can run their businesses at modest profits for years to come or sell out to developers for giant premiums. In Manhattan, where the best use for a gas station is a site for condominium or office development, the number of gas stations fell by a third between 2004 and 2014—to just 39. As the New York Times reports, “Today there is not a single operating gas station left on the city’s East Side from the southern tip of the island to 23 rd St.” The conversion of gas stations into apartments and offices is also starting to happen in other land-constrained cities such as Boston Washington and especially San Francisco, where at least two-dozen gas stations have made way for other developments over the past six years.

Several other trends are afoot that will lessen the underlying demand for gas stations’ core product. Gasoline, which was pretty much the only transportation fuel for vehicles until very recently, is slowly being displaced by a couple of sources, neither of which relies on gas stations to deliver them. First, there’s natural gas. Cheap and abundant thanks to fracking, compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas are emerging as options—not so much for consumers and individual cars but for fleets. One of my favorite sites, NGT News, documents how operators of huge delivery fleets such as UPS or giant armadas of garbage trucks such as Waste Management are systematically switching their fleets to run on natural gas–based fuels instead of gasoline.

NGT News is also filled with news of the new infrastructure springing up to service all these fleets. According to the Energy Department, there are 921 CNG fueling stations in the U.S. And there are hundreds more on the way. New chains of CNG stations are being built from scratch. Cities and municipalities are building their own stations to fuel fleets.

The other force is electricity, of course. The penetration of electric cars in America’s fleet is still very low. But every month, several thousand new cars hit the roads—Teslas, mostly—that don’t use any gasoline at all and will never, ever, ever stop at gas stations (unless their drivers need to make a pit stop for a Fresca or beef jerky). Sales of all-electric cars are running at about 6,500 month, according to Hybrid Cars. But there are signs of greater electrification. About 6,000 plug-in hybrids, like the one I drive, are sold every month. And there are many, many more to come. Tesla has already taken reservations for more than 370,000 Model 3s.

Off in the distance, the prospect of self-driving and autonomous cars also poses a threat. Driverless cars may take much longer than people think to develop into a real thing, because of issues surrounding licensing, insurance, liability, and infrastructure. But it’s not too far-fetched to imagine that a decade from now, people, rather than owning cars, might subscribe to some sort of mobility service that runs fleets of autonomous vehicles. Will those cars refuel at the local Sunoco? Or will they go back to base at night where their owners will gas them up?

And if you want to really look to the future, look no further than Norway. The country—irony alert—has deployed some of the wealth from its vast North Sea oil resource into generous incentives for electric cars, which now constitute about 20 percent of new cars sold there. Now come reports that several political parties may propose a law that would forbid the sales of cars that run on gasoline by 2025.

Gas stations won’t greet all of these developments lying down, of course. Many of them occupy locations that will enable them to continue fulfilling their fueling function. The gas stations on Connecticut’s Merritt Parkway, for example, have already been fitted out with Tesla charging stations. Some convenience stores are adding CNG pumps to their array of gasoline pumps. We’ll likely see much more of this. But these are expensive efforts for low-margin businesses to undertake. Future government action—the prospect of the Environmental Protection Agency enforcing the new high-mileage limits or offering new incentives for alternative fuel vehicles—will likely help push greater consolidation and contraction in the industry. Ten years from now, gas stations may be pushed out of central cities and concentrated near highway off-ramps. Players such as Walmart and Costco, which already sell gas on very low margins, will gain market share.

Like those other fixtures of our 20 th -century downtowns and main streets—the neighborhood soda fountain, bookstore, and sporting-goods store—the local gas station may be fading into memory in the 21 st century.


Commentary: Jase Graves - US history, on the refrigerator door

It&rsquos time for another installment of &ldquoPlaces you should go before you can&rsquot tell a presidential executive order document from one of your White House German shepherd&rsquos training pads.&rdquo Yes, recently my wife and three teenage daughters took a week-long family trip to Charleston, South Carolina &mdash also known as &ldquoThe city where every meal will cost you at least two C-notes.&rdquo

Because we enjoy turning our buns into geological formations, we drove the entire 14-hour trip from East Texas to downtown Charleston, stopping only occasionally to sample the delights of various Southern powder rooms, usually in rural gas stations tempting us with boiled peanuts and pickles in a bag.

Similar to nearby Savannah, Georgia, where we dislocated our credit on vacation a couple of years ago, we noticed that almost everything in Charleston is extremely historical, meaning it costs a lot of money to see, and it usually has a gift shop selling souvenir refrigerator magnets. In fact, upon our arrival, we immediately forked over a chunk of change to a tour company that hauled us around town in a historical-looking wagon behind a Belgian draft horse&rsquos fragrant hind quarters as the guide showed us the historical sideways-facing single houses with their grand piazzas &mdash and other historical stuff.

Because we still hadn&rsquot had enough historicalness, we spent a couple of more hours (and another hundred bucks) on a guided walking tour down cobblestone side streets and through historical alleyways where the horse&rsquos hind quarters don&rsquot fit.

The highlight of our trip was a jaunt aboard the Spirit of the Lowcountry across Charleston Harbor to legendary Fort Sumter. For about the price of one of my daughters&rsquo prom dresses, your family can cruise across the harbor and occasionally glance up from their cellphones to see the majestic Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, Castle Pinckney and finally, Fort Sumter &mdash where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. Although the tour of the fort itself was educational and moving, the cruise back to Liberty Square included the bonus of a pod of dolphins racing within inches of where we were standing on the lower deck at the bow of the boat &mdash and the dolphins didn&rsquot even charge extra.


8. Souvenir hunters tried to cut off parts of Bonnie and Clyde at the scene of their deaths.

On May 23, 1934, a six-man posse led by former Texas Ranger captain Frank Hamer ambushed Bonnie and Clyde and pumped more than 130 rounds of steel-jacketed bullets into their stolen Ford V-8 outside Sailes, Louisiana. After dozens of robberies and 13 murders in their name, Bonnie and Clyde&aposs crime spree had finally come to an end. With acrid gunsmoke still lingering in the air, gawkers descended upon the ambush site and attempted to leave with macabre souvenirs from the bodies of the outlaws still slumped in the front seat. According to Jeff Guinn’s book Go Down Together, one man tried to cut off Clyde’s ear with a pocket knife and another attempted to sever his trigger finger before the lawmen intervened. One person in the throng however managed to clip locks of Bonnie’s hair and swathes of her blood-soaked dress.


Friend got deleted from reality after stopping in a gas station

Some years ago my group of friends decided to celebrate my birthday by going all together on a weekend trip to a nearby city. In order to go there we borrowed a 7 seat van from one of my friends parents. After we packed all our stuff in the van there where no room left for more bags or backpacks, and all the 7 seats where taken (or that was the general feeling).

After some hours in the road we had the need for a bathroom and gas stop, so we took the first highway exit with a gas icon. It happened to be one of those gas stations that aren't just in the side of the highway but one where you have to drive a few minutes in a secondary road to get there. As we arrive there we all felt weird, there was something unsettling in that place, nothing that we can point directly but we all noticed It (there were comments like "kind of place for being killed/abducted" and mentions to movies with weird supernatural towns like silent hill).

Well we needed to pee and refill the tank, also apparently there was nothing wrong with the place (besides the general feeling) so we stop there and do our business. Then when everyone got into the van and we were leaving the place someone pointed out that now we have a free seat in the van, so we stop (we didnt even left the gas station) and started joking about leaving him (the owner of this empty seat) there for not getting in the van when we all did. Then we tried to find who was the one left behind but apparently we were all in the van. It was like if we were always 6 people. We have luggage for 6 people, only 6 seats in use, every personal item in the van was from one of us.

After some minutes checking we concluded that we made some mistake and we were actually 6 people all the time and left the gas station, but the "something is wrong" feeling was with us for the whole trip. We even have a dinner reservation (made a few days before the trip) for the next day and it was for 7 people.

I dont know what happened in that gas station, but Im almost sure we were 7 before stopping there and somehow one of us was erased from reality.


A Tribute to American Gas Stations

Gas stations today are so common and convenient, we never give them a thought— until we run low on fuel. Yet, they hold a fascinating place in American history.

The Quest for Petro

Early motorists hauled fuel in cans or buckets from wherever they could find it available at hardware stores, pharmacies, blacksmith shops, or livery stables. Horse-drawn wagons with tanks delivered the fuel to their commercial customers for resale to motorists.

Two pioneers of the gasoline station opened in the early-1900s in St. Louis and Seattle. The shopkeepers filled a five-gallon gas can behind their store, and then trotted it out to fill the customer’s vehicle in front.

Later, American drivers pumped their own “petro.” Motorists bought fuel from hand-operated pumps installed on the curb. However, these pumps proved top be a problem, as drivers often blocked traffic while pumping gas at the curb-side pumps.

America’s First True Gasoline Station

The first drive-in gasoline station in the U.S. opened December 1, 1913 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A manager and four attendants fueled vehicles under the sheltering roof of a tiny pagoda-styled building. The station supplied free air and water and even repaired and installed tires.

On its first day in business, the Pittsburgh station sold a total of 30 gallons of gas at a whopping 27 cents per gallon!

By 1917, seven more gasoline stations fueled the automobiles and trucks of Pittsburgh drivers.

Americans on the Roads

By the late 1920s, America had 200,000 filling stations spread from sea to shining sea. As fuel (and affordable vehicles) became readily available, Americans wanted to hit the roads.

Unfortunately, the wretched, pot-holed roads hit back. Long road trips were not for the faint of heart.

The growing number of automobiles demanded paved highways and improved roadways. Consequently, the Federal Highway Act of 1921 called for the development of a national highway system.

In 1925, the first gas station “credits cards” appeared on the scene. Made like dog tags, these metal plate cards fell from use during the Great Depression. Today credit cards account for 70% of gasoline purchases.

In the 1930s, improved automobiles and roads offered Americans real freedom to travel at will.

Early Filling Station Designs

The first rural gas stations typically included a small shack-like wood structure. Owners sold oil, gas, and ice-cold “pop” for weary travelers.

Quick to see the potential for selling their products, oil companies began building networks of attractive, prefabricated filling stations. As rival chains competed for business, available products— like tires and batteries—expanded. Many companies even offered free road maps to customers.

In 1927, Frank Lloyd Wright designed a gas station. The two-story design included an observation deck, luxury bathrooms, and fireplaces. Gravity-fed water tanks under the roof supplied the pressure to pump gas.

Unfortunately, no one shared Wright’s vision of an upscale gas station. However, a scaled-down version of Wright’s original design appeared in Cloquet, Minnesota— 31 years later.

In 1947, the first official “self-service” gas station opened in Los Angeles. However, the first 24-hour gas station did not open until 1962 in Las Vegas.

In the 1970s, economical off-brand “service stations” gained in popularity. Stations featured multi-pumping stations with large covered canopies. Many stations included garages with mechanics to handle simple repairs and oil changes. Fueling stations became retail centers with small stores or restaurants.

Today over 150,000 multi-pump gas stations cover the country. Most stations include a convenience store or a car wash. Stocked with over 3,000 items, the stores aim to entice customers to fill up more than their tanks.

Prefabricated Steel Building Gas Stations

Pre-engineered steel buildings offer numerous advantages that gas station and convenience store owners value, including:

  • Extra fire-resistance
  • Affordable cost
  • Damage resistance
  • Commercial-grade building material
  • Clear span interiors
  • High recycled content
  • Low maintenance
  • Durability
  • High resale value

Learn more about RHINO steel building solutions for gas stations and convenience stores. Speak to an experienced metal building specialist today. Call RHINO at 940.383.9566.

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Gas stations disappearing from rural areas

A steep decline in gas stations across the nation has left large numbers of municipalities with few or no such facilities, creating a situation where local residents may find it exceedingly difficult to fill up their vehicles, farming machines or heating units. The depletion of such basic services could further erode the foundations of rural depopulated communities and, if left unattended, exacerbate the various woes already experienced by these areas. The government and municipalities should work together with local businesses as well as community residents to devise an organized response to the problem.

According to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the number of gas stations nationwide has been declining since hitting a peak of 60,421 in fiscal 1994. At the end of last March, the number had fallen to 31,467, or nearly half the peak of 22 years earlier. Behind the fall is the worsening business environment and tightening competition among gas station operators.

Demand for motor vehicles is declining as Japan’s population rapidly ages and shrinks, and today’s dwindling ranks of young people show less interest in driving than previous generations. On top of this, the rise of fuel-efficient cars and an increase in the use of electric vehicles have likewise reduced demand for gasoline, the sales of which has been falling since its peak in 2011, sinking to 53 million kiloliters in 2016, a decline of 7.5 percent over four years.

As of the end of March, there were 302 cities, towns and villages nationwide that had three or less gas stations. The number of such municipalities — about 18 percent of the total 1,718 municipalities across the country — increased by 14 from the preceding year. Among them were 75 municipalities that had only one gas station each. Twelve towns and villages have no gas stations.

There are a variety of reasons that gas station operators give up. Many owners are aging — about 40 percent of those operating in municipalities with three or fewer stations are reportedly 60 or older — and have trouble finding successors in their family-run business. In addition, a 2011 amendment to the Fire Service Act required operators of gas stations to renovate underground fuel tanks in use for 40 years or longer by February 2013, and the huge cost of such improvements led many operators to shutter their businesses instead. According to a METI survey, operators of about 30 percent of some 1,400 gas stations in the nation’s depopulated areas are either contemplating shutting down their business or have little prospect for continuing their operations.

In addition to serving the daily needs of local communities, gas stations can operate as fuel-supply hubs for residents in the event power and gas supplies are crippled in major disasters such as earthquakes, as well as for emergency vehicles and rescue workers. When the Kumamoto earthquakes struck in April 2016, oil wholesalers prioritized sales to government-designated gas stations in the region, which serviced police and fire-fighting vehicles, and supplied fuel to evacuation shelters, hospitals and power supply vehicles. The ability of gas stations to fulfill such emergency functions will decline as their numbers drop.

METI reportedly plans to compile a guideline by the end of March to help sustain the operation of gas stations in rural depopulated areas. By highlighting examples of gas stations that have successfully diversified their business and streamlined their operations, the ministry hopes to establish a model for survival for struggling operators. In prefectures such as Hokkaido, Wakayama and Kagoshima, some municipal governments have taken over the operations of gas stations in view of the functions of these facilities as basic community infrastructure.

It will also be important to involve local interested parties, including residents and businesses, as well as gas station operators and oil wholesalers, in the efforts to address the problem of gas stations disappearing from rural municipalities. One idea may be to rebuild the gas stations in such areas as bases that provide wider services for local residents, such as venues for daily communication among elderly members of the community as well as providing shopping services for residents in remote areas who lack the means of transportation to go shopping in town. Getting gas station operators to play more diverse roles to serve local needs would both contribute to revitalizing communities and help ensure the sustainability of the gas stations themselves.

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