A family business for 63 years is being sold as Scott and Debi Stewart are ready for retirement. The popular service station has evolved over the years, but customer service never changed. Steve Harrison photo.
Story and photos by STEVE HARRISON
In 1960, gas was 31 cents a gallon. The service station attendant would come out when you ran over the hose that rang the bell inside the garage, greet you with a big smile and pump your gas as you stayed in your car.
They would have you pop the hood and check the fluids and even clean your windshield. That is what the service was like in 1960 at Stewart’s Service Station on Seneca Road in Hornell.
In the beginning, back 63 years ago, Stewart’s started as an Esso Station on the corner of Seneca Road and Big Creek Road, then an Exxon station six years later. In 1975, Harold and Doris Stewart would move to the current location on Seneca Street and it would remain there to this date.
Many times, a little 14-year-old kid working alongside his father Harold Stewart would be the one coming out to pump your gas for you. That younger kid, Scott Stewart, would remain inside the garage doors for the next 48 years of his life.
As the service station grew, the young kid grew as well. After graduation from Hornell High School, Scott elected to continue working in the family business as he had for the first years of his working life.
Scott married the love of his life, Debi (Clark) Stewart who would also become a staple through the years through the window as you paid your bill. Having two boys, Brian and Jason, work in the garage as soon as they were old enough to get working papers was one of the many bright spots along the way for the family business.
As time went on, the boys decided to pursue different careers in life that left the two pillars of the family turning wrenches, sharpening the pencils and keeping the books for 48 years of owning the landmark service station.
Through the years there had been a few changes to the station. With all the government regulations for gas storage and costs increasing to maintain them to code, it was time to move on from supplying gas. About six months after the elimination of fuel, they opened the car wash with the space that once stood where cars would line up to fill their tanks.
In 1990, Harold decided it was time to retire and sell the business to Scott. For the next 32 years of owning the business, Scott and Debi knew at one point they would want to retire.
But they were never sure when that day would come. After all, for 48 years, they have walked through the same front door, The only certainty was knowing the end of a Stewart owning the business was coming to an end.
Over the summer, Scott said he was approached by someone asking if it was time for them to retire and if they would be willing to sell the business. They thought long and hard. Over the years, the station built up a reputation as a small, hometown business with friendly, reliable service. They made the change to stop selling gas, they became a AAA station, helping those in need when stranded and selling high-quality used cars. Through the ups and downs of the economy, they never laid off an employee.
Selling a business is easy. Preserving history and customer service at Stewart’s Service Station the way the family had done for 63 years is not.
With an offer for the business, the Stewart’s had many conversations over the next few months. But they felt a sense of comfort from the new owner. Scott and Debi decided after 48 years working, it was time to hang up the wrenches and close the books.
The offer was from the Mullikin family. Dennis Mullikin, a former partner with Grey Manufacturing. Dennis said he has known the Stewart family for a long time and respects the reputation and quality service that the family had built over the years. He felt a new venture in life would be to continue the history of Stewart’s Service Station in the city of Hornell. His son, Johnathan Mullikin, will be the face of the business. He comes from the past 13 years with the Steuben County Sheriff’s office. When His father came to him with the idea of the new venture, Johnathan was totally on board. He said that if he could support his father and make things happen to progress in life as they wish, he is on board for any new venture.
The Stewart’s said if they could give any advice, it would be to remember this is a community with a small town feel and their success was built on quality of service.
The Stewart family has been helped with the transition and will stay on until Jan. 31. Dennis Mullikin said he wants to give them a big thank you for their help during the transition and what they have built over the years.
While some things change, some will stay the same. Eric Madison, who has been employed at Stewart’s for 21 years is staying on and Mike Strathearn, who joined the garage a year ago, will also remain.
Debi said she is excited for this new venture in their lives as Scott has a snowmobiling trip planned and they have a vacation lined up to Florida. You have until Jan. 31 to stop in and wish the two good luck in retirement.