Archive for Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Station’s closing affects longtime customers

September 13, 2006

Even with all the gasoline pump handles covered by plastic bags, some customers at Petro and Pantry Phillips 66 still tried to fill their cars with gasoline.

Old habits die hard.

Normally, when Nellie Zacharias pulls up in her white Chevy, the clerks go on out to help.

But at 4 p.m. Friday it was a different story.

With Phillips 66 closing, all four buildings at the intersection of U.S. 24-40 and K-16 are vacant.

But it's likely the intersection won't look like a ghost town forever.

Brian Johnson, director of finance for Casey's General Store in Ankeny, Iowa, said several parties are interested in buying the former Casey's store.

"We have yet to reach a final deal with anyone," Johnson said.

Casey's is asking $165,000 for the property.

Among those interested in the property is optometrist Dr. Kevin Lenahan.

"That's definitely been a consideration," Lenahan said. "We've been evaluating the possibilities."

Lenahan, 42, who grew up in Tonganoxie and graduated from THS in 1982, lives in Topeka. His parents, Bob and Eleanor Lenahan, have lived here all their lives.

Lenahan, who lives in Topeka with his wife, Katy, owns optometry businesses in Topeka and Lawrence. At each site his two businesses, Dr. Lenahan Optometry and The Spectacle, are side by side.

The firm has 22 employees, as well as Lenahan and two other optometrists.

Lenahan's grandfather, Ed Klinkenberg, was legally blind, and his mother has worked in Dr. Richard Dean's Tonganoxie optometry office for about 30 years.

"I was able to see what optometry was first-hand, with my mom actually working for him (Dr. Dean) for so long," Lenahan said.

While Lenahan said he made a bid on the Casey's building, which is on the northwest corner of the intersection, nothing is certain yet.

"I'm just looking at different options in Tonganoxie," Lenahan said. "It's not something that's been set in stone at all."

No gasoline.

And in just two more hours, no Petro and Pantry.

The station at U.S. Highway 24-40 and Kansas Highway 16 closed at 6 p.m.

Zacharias had been getting her gasoline there for 20 years, since she and her late husband moved to Tonganoxie.

With a hug, she said goodbye to station manager Michelle Coleman, who had worked there five years.

"I knew there was something wrong, but I didn't know you were closing," Zacharias said, her eyes glistening with tears.

Despite several attempts to reach them, the owners of Brumit Oil, Leavenworth, didn't return phone calls from The Mirror.

Coleman said she learned two weeks ago that a closing was imminent. And at 1 p.m. Friday, she learned the store would close five hours later.

As she sat in her office, a customer came in, saying to clerk Erika Martin, "So is this store actually going to close down?"

As it turns out, it was "this store," as well as several others. Coleman said Brumit Oil's convenience stores in Grantville, Leavenworth and Valley Falls also were closing.

George Wingo, who lives in Effingham but works for Bailey Electric in Tonganoxie, stopped by to pick up a soft drink before heading home.

"I've been getting fuel here for 12 years," Wingo said. "This is the only place I ever put fuel in my truck. Now I'm going to have to find someplace else."

The Phillips 66 was one of a handful of gasoline stations in town. Although Casey's recently built a larger store just down the road, it hadn't hurt the Petro and Pantry's business.

"Casey's hurt us right after they moved, but we picked up in the summer," Coleman said. "It was fine."

Coleman said their local charge customers would miss the convenience of being able to charge their gasoline -- without using a credit card. They'd sign a store receipt and go on their way. Each month, she said, Brumit Oil would send a bill. That amounted to a sizable portion of the store's business.

"Here lately, we've been doing $2,000 a day on local charges," Coleman said.

And she said the store's sales overall were ranging from $3,000 to $7,000 a day.

"Everybody tells me it's really going to hurt," Coleman said. "They're so used to coming here, and it's the oldest gas station in town."

Deloris White said she and her husband, George White Jr., owned the station from the early 1950s until they sold it to Brumit Oil in about 1979. George died in 1989.

She said that they had bought the station from George's father, George Sr., and that J.C. Haigwood was the original owner.

The room on the south at one time housed an appliance store, where washing machines and stoves were sold, and for years later, a liquor store, White said.

White, who worked at the station with her husband, said she still sees her former customers.

"I see men with children occasionally on the street and they speak, 'Hello, Mrs. White,' and I have no idea who they are, they have grown up and changed so much. But I'm sure they are some of those kids that came in for ice cream bars when I'd be at the station."

White said older Tonganoxie residents may recall the watermelon wagon that was parked in the station's lot each summer. The Whites split the profits with the Eudora farmer who brought them in.

"I remember planning on that sales money for a vacation after the season was over," White said.

With the station closing, memories of the bustle at the corner of 24-40 and K-16 almost become more important.

"The closing of that station is almost like losing a family member, to me," White said. "I have never bought gasoline any place else in town, I hate to see it go."

And it's not just that corner.

Casey's officials report there's been interest in buying the old Casey's store across the street. But close to a year after the new store opened, the old one is still sitting vacant.

Late Friday afternoon, Coleman looked out the window, past the sack-covered gas pumps, and wondered about the future of the intersection, which, with the closing of Petro Pantry, has four vacant buildings, and observed: "Now we've got all four corners empty."

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