Family-owned gas station in Shaler to turn off pumps

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A handwritten sign inside the doorway of Mike's Service Station on Route 8 in Shaler lists the number of traffic signals to local destinations -- a tally that has evolved over decades in response to people pulling in to ask for directions.

When Rick Genser started working for his parents at the station in 1963, the sign listed three traffic lights north along Route 8 to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Now, there are 19.

The Genser family has pumped gas since 1928 on the section of Route 8, also known as Butler Street, between Saxonburg Boulevard and Etna.

As the area developed, the number of traffic lights grew, and Route 8 widened to three lanes in the '40s, four lanes in the '60s and five lanes after the last major reconstruction project in 2005. All the while, the Gensers have kept filling up the gas tanks of cars.

But at the end of June, they will turn off their pumps ending more than eight decades of neighborly service -- in part because they say government regulations have imposed too many costs on the family-owned business.

"I wanted to make it to 100 years," Mr. Genser, 62, said. "My grandpop started this, and I wasn't willing to let it go."

He thought he had finally secured the station for the 21st century when he spent $150,000 on new computerized tanks in 1999.

But he ticked off a list of more costs -- hundreds of dollars for new warning signs, $350 every three years for an inspection, $1,500 to register each tank for the year, and $450 to take a three-day training course mandated by the state in 2009.

"Every year there's something new," he said. "I'm just exhausted, mentally and financially."

Selling gas is no longer the family's main business.

The service garages of A-Advantage Truck & Trailer, the truck repair and maintenance business Mr. Genser now owns, sit behind the pumps.

Stacks of railroad ties for sale rise in a nearby corner of the pavement.

At the A-Advantage Gun Shop, guns on offer now hang in the office next to old pictures of Gensers at the station.

These other businesses will remain open.

Mike and Rose Genser opened Mike's Service Station in 1928. After Mike died in 1952, his son Clarence took over. Clarence and his wife, Dorothy, were in charge until 2007, when Clarence died.

His son Rick kept it going along with Ms. Genser, now 90, who still tends to the station.

The sign over the doorway to the office still honors the station's leader for 55 years: "Clarence M. Genser Owner."

Rick says his father embodied old-time gas station service. Even after the station became self-service in 1999 with the new tanks, Clarence insisted on helping.

"You know if a lady pulled up, he'd come over and say, 'No, no, stay in your car. I'll do it,' " Rick said.

"He couldn't give it up."

Window washing, air in the tires and a check under the hood all used to be free as part of Clarence's service.

The gas seemingly was not much more.

"When I started in '63, a guy came in and asked for $5 worth of gas in his tank, and you couldn't put $5 of gas in then, but he had a special tank," Rick recalled. He said gas at the station then was 23 cents per gallon.

Rick and Ms. Genser still try to come out and greet customers as much as possible.

Ms. Genser says her family is not just her two sons, Rick and Ron, but extends to all the locals who swing by the station.

"I'm 'mum,' " she said, as she hugged a local constable before he left. "I've got a lot of kids."

Ms. Genser has been working at the station since she took over for Clarence when he fought in World War II.

She points to a rack of old jars that she used to fill with gas at a pump, then place out on an island to pour into cars as they came.

Ms. Genser looks at the modern cash register behind the desk and recalls when she just kept a book.

She knew the customers more then.

Trucks from local businesses would fuel there, then the owners would come back in their personal cars.

She would just write the total in the book every time someone filled up, then sent bills around at the end of the month.

"There were more neighbors then, houses beside us," she said.

When Route 8 was widened to five lanes in 2005, the houses across the street were torn down to make room.

The road was repaved with noisy grooved concrete instead of asphalt.

"When you get old you like it to be quiet," Ms. Genser said. "It's like a race now. People speed."


Peter Sullivan: or 412-263-1939.


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