Here are driving directions to one of the few remaining filling stations of the past: Get off Interstate 76 in Akron at Kenmore Boulevard and drive east. When you get to 12th Street, look to the Northwest corner for Pettit’s Marathon station.
Welcome to 20th century gasoline service. Just pull up to the mechanical pump and wait in your car. Keith Pettit will come out, pump the gasoline, wash your window, check your tire pressure and, if you like, engage in pleasant conversation.
He’s been doing it for 50 years. Before that, his father, Willis R. Pettit, manned the station and before that the corner operation was started by grandfather Willis G. Pettit in 1931. That’s 81 years of full-service car care by one family at one location.
Here in the 21st century of self-service gasoline, customers find it peculiar.
“They get out of the car and they say, ‘Where is the credit-card slot.’ So I say, ‘They’re not those kind of pumps at all.’ And I say, ‘You don’t have to get out of the car at all.’ ”
Staying warm while Pettit, 62, does all the work is part of the attraction.
He said many of his clientele are older customers who are willing to pay a premium for service. At one point this week he was charging $3.53 a gallon when other nearby stations were as low as $3.28.
Unlike other stations that adjust their prices according to the competition and supply, Pettit keeps the same price based on his costs as long as the current supply lasts. That can be more than a week at the same price while competitors change prices sometimes after only a few hours.
He buys the gas from Marathon and sports a Marathon sign, but he’s really an independent businessman. He has to make a special call when he’s running low, and when the gasoline truck comes he has to pay by cash or check.
He acknowledges his prices are high to help pay for the service, but he doesn’t hear many complaints.
“No, because they know I do good work and I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “And if they do complain I say, ‘Well, you better go some place else because it is like it is.’ ”
It’s not like he’s getting rich.
“It’s difficult sometimes, but there’s still people that want to be waited on and there’s chitchat like ‘How’s the family,’ and weather and Christmas and stuff like that.”
He doesn’t sell pop, beer or sweets, just car stuff. If people want a treat, they can go across 12th Street to the convenience store that sells at prices he can’t match.
Pettit has a service bay where he can fix tires, give tune-ups and even detail (thoroughly clean) your car if you can leave it there for the day.
He also has a sign in the window announcing he sells Avon products. More money comes in by eBay.
The back of his business card includes a chart for suggested tips.
December can be slow, but he said good times are ahead. His offer to pump gas while drivers stay toasty inside their cars becomes attractive when the weather gets frigid.
But don’t expect him to pump late at night or on the weekend. He works Mondays through Fridays from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“It’s against my rule to work on Sunday,” he said.
Dave Scott can be reached at 330-996-3577 or firstname.lastname@example.org.