Constable: Station keeps full-service lane in self-pump world
By Burt Constable
A bill in the Illinois House designed to create jobs by banning self-serve gas pumps died with very little support.
But if you pull into the full-service Pump 1 at Craig Grandt's Shell station in Arlington Heights, technician D.J. Blanco happily will do it all.
"We offer to pop the hood, check fluids and wash windows. It's just like the old times," says Blanco, a 22-year-old Harper College student who wasn't around for those good old days of the 1960s when a driver could duck inside the gas station office, drop a dime in the pop machine for a cold bottle of Coke and maybe buy a road map while an attendant filled up the gas tank, checked the oil and washed the windows.
"We've had the full-service pump since we opened," says owner Grandt. "We opened in 1928."
His father, Roger Grandt, worked as a mechanic for the original owner, Virgil Horath, and bought the station in 1960. The elder Grandt welded together oil drums to fashion a 15-foot rocket as a tribute to the 1960s' space race with the Soviet Union and Shell's new premium gasoline nicknamed "rocket fuel." The rooftop rocket now is a suburban icon and exists alongside the full-service pump as remnants of life in the 1960s.
Craig Grandt, 65, took over the station at 406 E. Northwest Highway around 2001, and his father died in 2011 at age 85.
"As a 10-year-old, I can remember working out there when we had four guys on the island," Grandt says. Now, Grandt has that full-service pump staffed by one of the three high school kids or two college students he hires.
"It does cost extra, a dollar more a gallon, but we have a decent number of customers who use it," Blanco says of the full-service option. "It's a lot of the older ones. They know what full service is."
Some are widows, whose husbands always used to pump the gas. "They never had to deal with it," Blanco says.
On a day when the rest of the pumps are selling gas at $2.81 a gallon, the price at Pump 1 is $3.81 a gallon.
Some people are willing to pay more just to make sure they don't arrive at a wedding, funeral or other fancy event smelling of gasoline. Others would rather pay a bit more to avoid the elements.
"We get young mothers with kids in the car," Grandt says. "That's their little gift to themselves."
They also get regular customers who pull up to the full-service pump, not wanting to buy any gas, just looking for free service.
"Yeah, we'll do it," Grandt says, saying it's just the right thing to help people who otherwise would do it wrong. "They're putting too much air in their tires or adding oil when they don't need it."
He does have mechanics and service bays for people who need work done on their vehicles.
Drivers with disabilities who have placards or license plates with that designation simply pull up to the full-service pump to get attention, and then an employee has them pull to a regular pump, where he fills their tank for the normal price. "If a person has a disability, we don't make them pay extra," Blanco says.
Every day, some drivers mistakenly pull into the full-service lane.
"If we don't recognize them, we run out there real quick," says Grandt, who directs those drivers to the cheaper pumps.
For some drivers, this is the first full-service pump they've seen.
"Lots of people say, 'I didn't know people still did that,'" Blanco says.
"It's one of those thing that hasn't totally died, but someone's trying to put a bullet in it," Grandt says.
New Jersey is the only state that still prohibits self-service pumps at gas stations. Grandt, who is married and has four daughters, remembers driving out East on vacation one year and happening upon a full-service pump.
"You want to pump my gas?" Grandt said, pausing to ponder his options. "Go right ahead."