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Neighborhood Station on Empty

Changing economics of the fuel and auto repair industries force many retail sites to close. A proprietor in Glendale quits after four decades.

December 24, 2005|Elizabeth Douglass | Times Staff Writer

McCullough's station, renamed SoCal Petroleum, began to falter after a succession of mandated environmental upgrades ate up big chunks of his profit. When a developer offered to buy his land in 2003 -- with the stipulation that the station could stay there until permits were secured for redevelopment -- McCullough sold.

In July, McCullough locked his pumps and told customers that gasoline sales would resume once he completed environmental upgrades expected to cost $70,000. A dispute scuttled the upgrade, and within a few months, the agreement between the developer and McCullough fell apart.

"It's not as if I planned to retire.... It all came about in 60 to 90 days, when I couldn't make a deal with the developer," McCullough said.

Instead of finding a new spot for his business, as he had planned, McCullough scrambled to find a new home for some of his 16 employees, more than 5,000 repair customers and nine service bays of equipment.

McCullough settled on RPM Automotive, a Glendale repair shop run by Chuck Bacon, 47, whose parents were McCullough customers for years.

Bill Topham, 83, stopped by George's Automotive for car service before Thanksgiving and found McCullough alone, packing up equipment.

McCullough "went ahead and put [the car] up on the rack and checked it out," Topham said. "That's the kind of guy he is."

Not long after McCullough vacated, the developer rented the gas station grounds to the Christmas tree vendors, who by Monday had sold out their stock. McCullough said the developer planned to build a Walgreens drugstore on the station site and two contiguous lots.

Inside the abandoned station last week, tires still rested on shelves in the garage, while a portable radio and a stack of repair coupons sat on a counter in the gas attendant's booth.

But McCullough said he got what he wanted most: the sign above the station door that read "George McCullough, proprietor."

"Shell put them on all their stations in the old days.... It was plastic and it lasted more than 40 years," he said. "I took it down and took it home."

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