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Vegas gas stations offer return to simpler times

By Ryan Lowery

Drive down almost any street in Las Vegas and it’s easy to see remnants of the past. Stop for gas at either of the town’s two full-service gas stations and you can experience a small piece of that past.

Once ubiquitous, full-service gas stations are rarely seen today, and most drivers expect to do the work of pumping gas themselves. But in Las Vegas, there’s no need to do the work yourself thanks to Gabriel’s Independent Station at 905 North Grand Ave., and RJ’s One Stop on South Grand.

Gabriel Lopez has owned Gabriel’s Independent Station since 2003, offering those in need of gasoline the full-service treatment from the start.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t like to pump their gas,” Lopez said. “That’s the reason I’m here. I like to be out there. I have a bunch of wonderful customers. They’ve really been loyal to me. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here.”

The concept of a full service station may be foreign to some, especially younger generations. But at one point in America, motorists didn’t have a choice between full service and self service. Drivers simply pulled into a station, and seconds later, a team of filling station attendants rushed out to fill the tank, wash the windows and check the tire pressure.

In fact, the first self-serve stations were a bit of a novelty, marketed to drivers looking to save a few cents per gallon. The idea was if station owners didn’t have to pay a staff of attendants, the stations could sell gas for less than those that did. But according to Lopez, there’s not a big difference in price between his station and the self-service fueling stations around town. He said his prices are even lower sometimes.

The ubiquity of full-service stations began to diminish in the aftermath of the of the 1973 oil crisis. As gasoline became more expensive, many filling stations switched to the self-serve model as a way to bring down the cost of gasoline for customers. Once the oil crisis ended, customers had gotten used to the idea of pumping their own gas, and most gas stations in the U.S. stuck with the self-serve concept.

But places like Lopez’s station bring to mind the days when service with a smile was all part of the price of gasoline. Lopez said some who stop at his station are surprised when he comes out to fill up their tanks, but most of his customers return because they like the service he provides. Lopez said he likes the full-service model because he gets to meet people from all over and talking to people is far better than sitting inside, behind the counter. Customers tell him they’re glad he’s there, Lopez said.

“A lot of people do appreciate it,” he said. “I like to do it, and at the same time, it helps people. I don’t know. I just enjoy it.”

When asked what the biggest challenge facing his business is, he chuckled and said, “The other stations. There’s a lot of competition, but that’s okay.”

He got his start in the business by managing a station his grandfather owned. When the opportunity arose to buy his own station, he knew he had to take the chance.

Lopez hopes his daughter can take over the station some day, but with an uncertain future for the economy of Las Vegas, he doesn’t know what lies ahead for the station.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen next. That’s in the future,” he said. “It’s a gamble. It’s an everyday gamble.”