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No more 'Fill 'er ups' at a corner landmark

By SHARON BOND

Revised July 3, 2000

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 31, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- For more than 50 years, there has been a gas station at 1406 Fourth St. N.

That tradition is ending.

Eugene's Master Mechanic closes today, although the gasoline ran out last week, said owner Eugene Samolewicz.

"The era of the corner, full-service repair shop and gas station is coming to an end," Samolewicz said. "It's a little sad."

photo
[Times photo: Dirk Shadd]
Owner Eugene Samolewicz has been working in the car repair industry since he was 16. He says he will move his repair shop to 2550 25th Avenue, but he won't sell gas.
The Texaco filling station and garage is closing because property owner, Risser Oil Co., sold the site.

"We have owned that property for over 50 years," said Kerry Katzhuk, vice president of marketing for Risser.

"It is just like the same thing in the Wal-Marts of the world and the Home Depots of the world," said Katzhuk, referring to large companies that often force smaller ones out of business. He said the arrival of super filling stations such as RaceTrac or Hess, which thrive on high volume gas sales, has hurt smaller stations.

The high cost of maintaining older stations was another reason Risser Oil decided to sell, Katzhuk said. All new gas stations are required to have double-wall gas tanks and all older stations must be fitted with them by 2009.

Double-wall tanks "are very expensive to put in," Katzhuk said.

He said the new owners will run the garage but gas will no longer be sold there. "The gas volume on that type of facility is slowly declining."

Samolewicz is a bit more blunt. Society is hooked on "convenience stores and pay at the pump," he said.

"There is a niche in society for the trustworthy corner gas station guy. Some of the modern, younger society doesn't see that niche unless they are on their way to a wedding on a Saturday night and have a flat tire. Then their whole attitude changes."

This is no retiree talking. Samolewicz is 41, but he has been in the gas station/vehicle repair business since he was 16. He owned the business at the Fourth Street station for four years.

Customer Mary Rainwater took her 1987 Ford Tempo to Samolewicz for years. Did she like the service? "Very much so. I still would like to go to him."

Elmer Wright, another longtime customer, lives near the station. He said he bought practically all of his gas at the Texaco and got his repair work done there.

"They were always wonderful. They would send somebody to take me home, but most of the time I would just walk," Wright said.

St. Petersburg's city directory for 1945-46 lists a City Service filling station at the 1406 Fourth St. N site. In 1951, it was Harry H. Luther's filling station, then Harry's Sunoco Service station two years later. By 1960, it was Vance "66" Service Station. Six years after that it was Cooper's Texaco Service, then Bill & Julian Texaco in 1970. By 1988, it was Gene's Texaco, named for Gene Riffe who sold the business to Samolewicz.

Samolewicz is leaving Fourth Street, but he isn't going out of business. He could not afford to buy the Fourth Street site from Risser, he said, so he's moving his repair business to 2550 25th Ave. N.

"What I am going to lose," he said, "is the ability to have the everyday "Hello, how are you?' with a huge amount of people."

-- Researchers Mary Mellstrom and Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

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