By Bob Blake
When was the last time you bought fuel at a gas station – not a convenience store with pumps? I mean a real business that sold only gasoline… delivered by a uniformed attendant. Probably never or a very long time ago!
Over the past few decades, full service gas stations have dwindled 25%. The reason: the advent of the convenience store. This marketing craze that began in the 1960s actually started years earlier. Small stores offering staple groceries and gas were common throughout rural America. The 7-eleven® corporate website claims to have launched the first such store in Dallas, TX during 1927 when an enterprising Southland Ice Company employee, “Uncle Johnny” Jefferson Green, began offering milk, bread and eggs from their ice house. He kept these items available when grocery stores were normally closed.
As of 2016, some 15 major corporations dot the convenience store market. The United States network comprises more than 150,000 stores, employing thousands, and generate a yearly revenue of around $700 million.
Gas stations vanished for many reasons, but primarily the operators realized there was little profit in just selling gasoline, oil and minor repairs. Jeff Lenard, a spokesperson for National Association of Convenience Stores says, “The volume of gasoline sales peaked in 2007.” The Energy Information Administration reports a decline in America’s fuel consumption by 6 percent since 2007.
Our cars have vastly improved over the past thirty years. They use less gasoline, require fewer repairs and are so complex the “do all” mechanic of fifty years recoils when he peeks under the hood. Synthetic oils stretch the miles between service and more reliable tires have fewer flats.
As the filling stations declined and the 70’s fuel shortage began, Americans began pumping their own gas. This trend was popularized by Joyce Jillson’s 1982 book, “Real Women Don’t Pump Gas.” Citing safety concerns, New Jersey and Oregon remain the only two states that ban drivers from filling their own tanks. It is reported, as of 2015, both states continue to struggle with the restrictions.
As these popular stores multiply and dot neighborhoods and interchanges, the once filling stations are rare and often shuttered. Their underground storage tanks remain silent and potential problems.
So, after eighty years we are back to where it all started…the neighborhood store, with snacks, soft drinks, common items and…gas. Many have glass jars that taunt kids with bubble gum and hard candy. Now the rusted metal oil change rack out back is gone, along with the sliding top drink cooler, filled with ice water so cold it numbed your fingers and turned them purple when you fished out a glass bottled “cold drink!”