The recent closing of the Hewlett Gulf gas station at the junction of Peninsula Boulevard and Mill Road leaves only two stations remaining at one of the most heavily trafficked intersections in the Five Towns.
The Gulf station, vacant for nearly two weeks, is the second one to recently go out of business at the “four corners,” which up until last year, was occupied by four operating stations as far back as most residents can remember.
In the past week, its gas pumps have already been boarded up, and service companies were brought in to remove the fire suppression tanks and evacuate the gas lines. According to technicians from both companies, these measures don’t necessarily indicate that the location won’t remain a gas station in the future. However, the property owner wasn’t available for comment as to his intentions.
Over a year ago, the Shell station, diagonally across from Gulf, closed down as well. The owner, who did not want to comment for this story, moved the business to Valley Stream and changed its name, re-launching as purely a repair shop that doesn’t sell gas.
The two remaining stations at that intersection are Sunoco and Gas Sale.
“I think that the Gulf station went out because their lease ran out,” said Satveer Singh, a cashier at Sunoco. “We are staying, because we are the best station on the four corners. Our place is bigger, we have the nice convenience store and our gas prices are lower.”
Without question, Sunoco seems to be the busiest gas station in Hewlett, with cars coming and going all day. It is also one of the few stations in the area that does not have an auto repair center.
“Since they redid the Sunoco station, more people go there for gas, because it’s nicer than the others,” said Raphael Tynes, a frequent customer. “It’s clean looking, and they have new pumps. You can use the free air tanks, and the store inside is nice if you want a drink or something to eat. And I think it’s also a little cheaper than a couple of the other places.”
With prices currently skyrocketing again, even gas that’s a few cents cheaper could pull longtime customers away from their favorite independently owned station and have them heading to a national gas chain that can afford to set their prices a bit lower.
Even though Sunoco only has self-serve pumps, which is a problem for some older residents who say they have trouble pumping their own gas, it is following the local trend of eliminating the overhead of hiring attendants to pump gas.
“You need self-serve to make a living,” said John Walson, owner of the Gulf station in Woodmere. “I still offer a full-service tank, because I’m a dinosaur. But most don’t”
Besides the two stations that closed on the four corners, others in Hewlett are gone or are in flux as well. The J-Mar station on Broadway moved to another location months back, and a 7-11 will replace it, with construction workers saying that the store could be open as soon as December.
The BP gas station on Broadway remains closed since a fire destroyed it in July. Ace Auto Clinic on West Broadway has its repair shop up and running, but their gas pumps have been closed down for a while. The owner said they will reopen soon.
One of several reasons why local stations may be having trouble staying afloat is Nassau County’s new regulation requiring most stations to upgrade their gas tanks, which is so expensive that one local owner said it will drive some stations under. The Long Island Gasoline Retailers Association claims that the upgrade costs will range from $150,000 to $300,000, in addition to lost revenue during construction, which can take up to 10 weeks.
Walson, who has owned his station for 43 years, said he isn’t surprised that many stations are going out of business or moving to a cheaper location — in part, because of changes in the gasoline industry and also because good mechanics are a rare commodity these days.
“If your station has a repair shop, it’s tough, because good mechanics are almost impossible to find these days. It takes 10 years just to become a reasonably decent mechanic,” he said. “And gas is a very low-profit business, and if you don’t do mega volume, you won’t make it.”
Jack R, a gas station owner who recently posted a comment on Patch, agrees, asserting that stations need heavy volume to come out ahead.
“Does anyone who is complaining about the 'ridiculously' and 'outrageously' high prices of gas on [Rockaway Turnpike] know how much profit these stations owners are making on a gallon of gas?" he posted. "How does about .06 per gallon sound? That’s 60 cents a 10 gallon sale.”