Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Minute Service Station

Today's picture is of the Minute Service Station, and it was taken in 1925. In earlier posts this week, and in your comments, we lamented about the "sameness" of everything today. There is little local flavor or unique experience possible in the retail sector any more. In addition, customer service is a thing of the past. Employees in retail outlets often show utter contempt for customers (try asking a Home Depot 'associate' where the duct tape is). In cases where companies are trying to have customer service, the employees appear to be plastic robots reading off a script (would you like fries with that?).

Growing up, I can remember we always got our Gasoline from a gas station with an independent proprietor. The man's name was Mr. Gay. When you pulled in, he came out, filled you up, cleaned the windshield, checked the oil, and checked the tire pressure. All the while, he would engage you in interesting small talk and conversation. He always had complimentary bubble gum for the kids. He would let you know if your fan belts or hoses were looking worn, and he did oil changes and engine repair in his shop. If you broke down, he had a tow truck and would come and get you. He took pride in the way he took care of his customers, and stopping in for gas always was a pleasant experience that brightened the day a little. So sad that this type of service is all but lost now days.


  1. Having spent the weekend in London, I have to say I simultaneously agree and disagree with you. It is disturbingly true that retail is very homogeneous, ala Ritzers McDonaldization. However, if you find the right establishment even the most souless of places can be brightened up by interaction with a real employee who takes pride in their work and enjoys interacting with customers.

    Oh yes, and for some reason your picture isn't showing up for me! Woe!

  2. Yes, the photo isn't coming up. Maybe it was too big, or not of an accepted format, or...?
    As for McDonalds, at least here in Italy, they are making an effort to take on local flavor, both in their architecture/interior design and in their menu (even to the point, finally, of buying local beef, thus assisting the local meat farmers). It's true, it's too fatty to eat hamburgers every day, but a couple of times a year--aaahh, that special sauce!-- probably won't hurt anyone's cholesterol, and they provide safe, reliable and low cost meals everywhere. (No, I don't work for McDonalds, I don't know anyone who does, and I get absolutely no kick back for this. I just think that the customer has the freedom to decide, and the owner has the freedom to meet the customers' needs, or not, and that will determine whether a business stays open, or not, as opposed to the sour grapes on the European side of the Atlantic, where I am, now...if they are so against McDonalds, they should create local viable alternatives, instead of breaking windows and blocking access...that's my not so humble opinion...thanks for the opportunity to get this off my chest!)

  3. Your photo does not show up for me either.

    I had the Home Depot experience happened to me at our Menard's store once. I went to the service desk and reported it. Since then they escort customer right to the spot where the item is.
    I guess being a Secret Shopper has turned me into a person that won't accept any thing but curtsey from the employees. I now know that the owners want their employees to treat people right, not like cattle. There are to many stores that carry the same thing that they can't afford to lose even one customer. If the employee has a wrong attitude they will lose one customer here, another one there. Then it adds up.

    But gone are the days of the service station attendant hurrying out to service your car. A few still will come out and pump your gas, but no more washing windows or checking oil.

  4. Ahh! Your photo cae through now.

    So for a 1925 photo, it looks like they already had started chains. This one is #8,
    I sure looks like a well lighted station. But notice the the light standard on the far left has it's globe missing.
    And there is a man putting air into his own front tire.

  5. Yep - coming through loud and clear now. I think what I love most about this photo is the simple bucket labelled "FIRE".

  6. I got your picturejust fine.

    You described the EXXON station in Virginia owned and run by a man named Mr. Markham. Over the many years we lived there (12) he became more of a friend than a propritor. He, too, provided a wrecker to service his customers. My Mom used him more than anyone because she regularly ran out of gas.

    We eventually moved but there was no Mr Markham in Maryland by the time we got there.

    I get wonderful help in our Home Depot. So much so that my wife wishes I wouldn't go there so much


  7. UP until a few years ago there was an old style gas station near my home that had been out of business for years. I recall there being a pole sign that had a bear cub on it. I always wished I could have gotten my hands on that sign. Does anyone know of this trademark and what company it belonged to??

  8. I'm wondering if you aren't think of Bear alignment center. They were at service stations and had a picture of a bear cub on the sign.
    I remeber them for late 40's and early 50's

  9. In South Saint Paul, Minnesota there is a station that will do very much of these things. Does not have a tow truck or bubble gum. But has a smile, fills up the gas and washes the windows. Every time we wanted to buy a used car it had to pass his inspection. Gas costs more there but service is fantastic and if in South Saint Paul stop at the Phillips station and say hi to Steve.

    We have a choice to go to big names and pay less or go to the small business and get service

  10. Thinking back to a young child well traveling with my aprents and siblings across country in the 60's and 70's I remember so much of rural America as we traveled across country to our next home. So many mom and pop serivice stations as well as other business's. Those wherer the dayud of true charcter and personality. And always a friendly smile and customer service, as you said with some small talk.
    Route 66 comes to mind.

  11. I hope the bucket labeled "Fire" doesn't have water in it. As adding water to a gas fire only causes the fire to spread.

  12. Ah, but you should come to Japan for a refill! Attendants stoping the traffic for you, bowing, running to your car, cleaning your windshield frenetically while barking "Welcome, dear customer!" to you (and everybody around), and stopping the traffic again for you to leave, all lined up standing at attention and re-bowing when you pass them!
    And i am not telling you about entering a department store at opening time :-) !

  13. We have those 'fire' buckets at every gas station here in India. They are filled with sand and have rounded bottoms (to encourage their being kept on the stand and not carried off to use elsewhere). I like my local "Shell" station, whose employees greet me with a 'namaste' hand gesture, wash my windshield, and sometimes remember that I don't like the tank topped off. Best of all, they never, ever try to cheat me by starting the pump before resetting it to zero from the last customer's total (something that I've experienced at many other stations). And for all this customer service as well as slightly better quality fuel, I pay 10% more than the other stations too. That's life in India, I guess.--BangalOregonian

  14. You lament the lack of service at a filling station, but would you go out of your way or be willing to pay extra for the service? How much extra per litre or gallon would you pay to have someone come out and do all those things when you buy gas? The service station owner is not going to get minimum wage teenagers to do it.... he's going to have to pay the employees a little more.

    Here in NS we have regulated gas prices. Gas stations are allowed to charge 3c per litre extra for full serve.... the full serve pumps or stations are almost always deserted. When we are paying $1.17 a litre for gas we can't really afford the extra.

    I love the idea of small businesses competing with each other in a free local market, but the reality is, is that the freer a market is, the easier it is for a business to get bigger and bigger until it pushes out all the competition. It does this by undercutting on price. Because service and quality do not matter to most people, only price. The cheapest price wins, the company with the cheapest price wins, they bulk buy and skimp on service to save money until they ruin everybody else, then when they are the only company left they are free to gouge the consumer. KaChing. The rich get richer at everybody else's expense.

  15. When I was first learning to drive...one night I was in my dad's big blue Buick Electra. I ran it into a deep ditch at the gas station. The owners son new my dad ( and was probalbly scared for me:)) and prompltly stopped his night of fun to get the wrecker out of the gargage and pull me out, Free of charge, of course. Oh the good old days. Talk about "A Night in Shining Armour"!!! At the local stations today... I would be sued and jailed.


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