Owners upset as bell tolls for gas station

Sisters who own the Amoco at Seminole Mall are shocked to be losing their lease - and livelihood - so a bank can move in.

Published April 17, 2005

SEMINOLE - The Seminole Mall Amoco, a landmark for about 40 years, is about to close because mall management has declined to renew the lease.

A bank will apparently rise in place of the station.

Owners Jill Huett and Karen Natuck are devastated - emotionally and financially.

"We want to stay here. We really do," Natuck said. "I was in tears when he first called."

The mall will pay more than $300,000 to clean the site, bulldoze the building and get Huett and Natuck out of their contract with BP Amoco. But that will not help Natuck and Huett relocate.

"We'll see none of it," Natuck said. "We walk away with zero dollars and have no money to open another business."

Even worse in some ways, they said, is the job loss to their two employees. One has been at the station for 19 years; the other, 23 years.

"They're going to be out of a job just like we are," Natuck said. "We're just so happy they'll be here until the station closes, that they will not abandon us."

The closing date is uncertain. Natuck and Huett will rent month to month until the mall wants them out. They're hoping that a petition and city officials will help them persuade the mall to let them stay.

Seth Layton of RMC Property Group, which manages Seminole Mall, did not return phone messages asking for comment.

Natuck and Huett are sisters, born in Canada, who come from a family of station owners. Not only did their grandfather own a station, their mother was the first woman in Canada to own a gas station. When she retired, she moved to the Seminole area. Natuck and Huett followed her.

"We just kept the same line of business," Natuck said. "We love it."

They bought the "goodwill" of the station/convenience store about 12 years ago. At the time, Exxon owned the pumps. Exxon later merged with Mobil. In 2001, Exxon's lease was up.

"Exxon wanted to gut the whole store," Huett said. "They didn't want the competition."

"The girls," or "the sisters," as customers called them, hired an attorney to force Exxon to sell them the store.

Exxon's original price was over $400,000. After a court hearing and $50,000 in attorney's fees, the sisters won. They paid Exxon $200,000 for the store.

It was during that time that the mall lease also needed to be renewed. The best they could get was a 15-year lease that gave the mall the option to terminate after three years and every odd year after that.

In January, the first three years was up.

"They called us on the phone. Then (they) sent the letters," Huett said. "I called him back after I calmed down a bit."

Layton told her the mall wanted the space for a "Fortune 500 bank," Huett said. Huett asked for a chance to match the rent the bank was willing to pay.

"He replied that a bank is a nice, clean environment," she said.

The situation makes no sense, the sisters say. Seminole has numerous banks, three in the mall itself. Several others are within a block or two of their site on the southwest corner of Seminole Mall.

"We're just surrounded by banks," Natuck said.

Gas stations are few and far between in the area.

"We don't know what to do," Natuck said. "I don't know if the city can step in or not."

Customers have pitched in to help save the station. They began a petition that has hundreds of signatures. They've even called Seminole City Council members for help.

If they are forced out in the end, the sisters aren't sure what they are going to do because, as Natuck said, gas stations are "in our blood."

The sisters had hoped to own the station for many years until one of Huett's children could take over the "family business."

In the end, the loss of dreams may be the biggest hurt of all.

"It's going to be a hard last day. That's for sure," Natuck said.