Basalt institution will fight rather than fold
A Basalt institution decided it needs to evolve or risk becoming just another memory in the changing town.
The owner of the Basalt Phillips 66 full-service gas station and auto repair shop on Midland Avenue said changing times are forcing him to alter his business approach.
“Town’s changed,” said John Fitzpatrick, owner of the gas station since 1992 and operator of an automotive repair shop in Basalt since 1983. “I wish it was the way it was 20 years ago.”
But customers have different demands today, he said. They want to grab a cup of coffee, pick up a sack of donuts or buy a pack of rods while they stop to gas up.
“They want to get everything in one stop,” said Fitzpatrick. “I just couldn’t run the gas station the way it was.”
People who have lived in Basalt for a while tend to be loyal customers of his station, he said. But newcomers prefer the convenience other stations offer.
And at the same time the demands have changed, the competition has become more intense for customers.
Fitzpatrick said the 7-Eleven convenience store was his only competition for gas when he took over the Phillips 66 in 1992. He nearly doubled sales, he said, largely through the popularity of offering service more reminiscent of an earlier era. Attendants fill the tank, check the oil, replace burned bulbs. Kids stomp on the air hoses and make the service bells ring. Dogs of customers always got treats. The hydraulic lifts in the two auto repair bays were always in service.
But The Basalt Store Texaco out by Highway 82 siphoned off a large share of his gas business, and a commercial fuel station on the south side of the highway took some of his accounts.
Three months ago, Fitzpatrick moved the auto repair and tire service portions of his business out of the Midland Avenue station to the south side of the highway, at 281 Cody Lane. The gas station is still pumping, but it has lost some of its vitality.
Fitzpatrick and his brother-in-law, Scott Levine, hope to change that. They have applied to the town of Basalt to remodel their business and overhaul its focus. They will still offer full service at the gas pumps, but the merchandise will be geared toward fixing appetites rather than clogged fuel injectors.
Fitzpatrick and Levine, doing business as JohnScott Inc., say their new Midland Avenue Depot will be a 21st-century version of a country general store. They will have ice cream for hot summer days, bulk candy for kids, good coffee for adults and camping accessories. They want to revive the Basalt tradition of selling hunting licenses, something no store has done for a few years.
But, in a modern twist to the general store concept, they will also offer computers for e-mail access, weather reports and information on local hotels and restaurants.
“I’m completely against a convenience store,” said Levine. “I don’t call it a convenience store. I get mad when people call it a convenience store.”
Convenience stores are where people stop and hit the road. “I want people to come to this place to sit down and relax,” Levine explained.
Fitzpatrick said he’s sort of sad to see the old retro-style service station evolve, but it has to be done.
Basalt officials also expressed regrets, but the Planning Commission recommended approval of the change in use for the store during a meeting this week. The issue now goes before the Town Council.
Planning Commissioner Mark Elice, a regular customer of the Phillips 66, said he was “heartbroken” to see the station change, but understood the reasoning.
“I’m still going through grieving at this point,” Elice said. “It’s such an icon of our community.”
Fitzpatrick said he hopes to begin remodeling the space as early as January, assuming he makes it through the next step of review. He rents the space from Swallow Oil Company of Rifle, a family-owned business that has had the property for three generations and formerly operated the gas station. Fitzpatrick said he has long-term options to rent.
Planning Commission members credited Fitzpatrick and Levine with coming up with a concept that won’t look or feel like a typical convenience store. They advised the Town Council to grant approvals for the Midland Avenue Depot that would apply in case the space is ever leased or purchased by a larger corporation.
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