‘It’s been a privilege’: Now-retired West Seattle service-station proprietor Dick Barnecut tells his story

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The end of an 83-year-old business happened fast.

Too fast to say goodbye to everyone.

But now-retired service-station proprietor Dick Barnecut tells WSB he’s hoping to fix that – with a goodbye get-together sometime soon.

It was just five weeks ago that reader tips led to our first report of the sale and changes on the way for the Admiral Way service station founded by Barnecut’s father.

About two weeks after our report, the sale of the service station closed, and it changed hands. Admiral entrepreneur Marc Gartin owns it now; it’s still in business – as a gas station, but not the same way the Barnecuts ran it for decades, and city files indicate another change is in the works.

To follow up on the sale – which drew more than 50 comments here, some as simple and heartfelt as “You will be missed” – we interviewed Dick Barnecut at his home, less than a mile from the station.

“It’s been a privilege to operate a legitimate business in the community where we have grown up, and to deal with friends and former classmates,” Barnecut says.

To answer the big question:

“I imagine people are wondering why an 83-year-old business in the same location would decide to close shop,” he began, reading from a handwritten statement before we moved into a conversation. “There are many reasons but the main one is, it was no longer profitable, the way we were operating it.”

The business’s roots go back to 1924, “when my dad, George Barnecut Sr., started our business while working for Union Oil at the same location across the street where Starbucks and (Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream) are now located. We have always strived to fulfill that role, as a service station.”

And the family-owned business continued to fulfill that role, he points out, “through gas rationing and World War II, through long lines and shortages, we’ve been able to run a good business and support families and give many people entry-level jobs.”

He’s proud of everyone they’ve employed over the years – including some who, he recalls, have gone on to careers such as teachers, lawyers, and medicine.


“In the last few years, the dynamics of the gasoline business and auto-repair business have radically changed. With the emphasis on volume sales, super-pumpers like Costco, Safeway, and Fred Meyer, other big companies, have taken over a large portion of gas sales.”

At Barnecut’s station, they literally stared that fact in the face each day, with a Safeway gas station open since the mid-2000s, right across Admiral Way.

But the landscape also changed as cars changed, Barnecut observes: “The auto repair business is drastically different, with less periodic maintenance necessary on new cars, and the repair equipment is expensive (for new cars’) complex systems.”

Fuel-economy improvements also meant cars use less gas, so drivers don’t need to buy as much and stations don’t sell as much.

To compensate, many diversified and added mini-marts. Barnecut says his family remained resolute “to try to stay a service station,” purposely deciding not to add a mini-mart, not to sell “tobacco and beer … It may have been a poor decision, but so be it.”

Then came one more factor – “probably the straw that broke the camel’s back” – what Barnecut declares to be “the unrealistic assessed valuation of our property, at least twice what it would sell for.” They appealed, repeatedly, to no avail, he says, and were most recently facing $2,000 worth of taxes for each month. (County records indeed show the assessed value at $2.2 million, with the recent sale price at just under $1 million.)

But he makes it clear he’s not complaining – over the years, the Barnecuts have been able to buy the site, rebuild the station, “raise our families … and provide many jobs.” He says they’re grateful for “great support from the community and our suppliers and financial institutions.”

It was just this past spring when they made the decision. He speaks fondly of how hard his son Andy worked to run the station, but for all the aforementioned factors, things were getting discouraging. So they discussed the possibility of putting it up for sale – and had a purchase offer on May 1st.

“It feels like the right decision,” Barnecut insists. And he says it went fairly smoothly; the buyer, who also owns Admiral Chevron, bought the remaining gasoline, signed a contract with the supplier, and is keeping the station under the Shell brand, though Barnecut won’t be surprised if and when other changes ensue – like that mini-mart he never wanted to add.

His son was out of town on a well-deserved vacation at the time of our conversation last week, and, according to Dick Barnecut, hadn’t made a decision yet about his future plans: “I think he’ll land on his feet.”

Andy Barnecut had been part of the family business since his teens; his father reminisced that he learned how to run the business by opening the station on weekends for several years to help pay his expenses in college. “He built his own clientele – he was hard-working, and paying attention.

Andy is the youngest of four children born over the span of 15 years to Dick Barnecut and his wife Dolores Barnecut. Dick himself started working at his father’s station in 1940; he had two brothers, “but they weren’t interested” in taking over the family business, so he eventually did, first working alongside his father, who retired at age 65, in 1964.

As for his own retirement – he says he’s reading a lot and seeing friends, including high-school classmates with whom he gets together once a month; the day before our interview, they had just taken a trip to Hood Canal.

But, he observes, the group’s shrunk: “We’re in the last half of the ninth inning, taking our cuts!” Yet that’s not a morose observation – Barnecut followed it with laughter, and then makes another point of longevity: “My wife and I have been together 66 years. Just getting acquainted.”

More laughter. And then, with seriousness: “We’ve been lucky with our health and our children, ever so grateful for not only our country but our community and friends and schools.” He served in the U.S. Navy a few years and got out in 1946, one year before getting married.

In the short term, he has a goal of getting his whole family together, at or before Christmas, for a big family group photo.

One more thing we asked about before taking our leave: Does he know what might happen to the mural on the back of his just-sold station, visible from the Metropolitan Market (WSB sponsor) parking lot, depicting the original 1932-built little brick station?

He expects it to stay, and recalls commissioning it “because people were resentful of the old station being bulldozed [at the time of its renovation/rebuild] … We had enough money left over to pay for a guy to paint the mural. He did a great job, and we’ve never been able to find him since!”

Meantime, as we finished writing this story, we discovered a city permit application indicating that new owner Gartin plans to convert the station’s service bays into convenience-store space.

That’s in line with Dick Barnecut’s observation, looking back and looking ahead: “Things change; nothing stays the same.”

And he promises to let us know if and when that goodbye party is planned.

30 Replies to "'It's been a privilege': Now-retired West Seattle service-station proprietor Dick Barnecut tells his story"

  • Kim July 18, 2013 (1:12 pm)

    Oh dear, the last thing our neighborhood needs is another convenience store.

    I’m so sorry to see Barnecut’s go. I went there for gas 95% of the time, even though it was more expensive than the Safeway across the road. And they were my go-to for car repairs.

    If anyone knows where some of the Barnecut repair guys went, or if you have an honest, locally owned recommendation for regular auto repairs (oil change, maintenance), please post a comment!

  • Noelle July 18, 2013 (1:35 pm)

    The guys at Courtesy Tire in the Junction are great. They’re honest and reliable and I recommend them to everyone.

  • Rumbles July 18, 2013 (1:41 pm)

    Courtesy Tire (just south of Alaska/Calif jct) is a class act! Fair prices and honest employees, a great place!

  • Jennifer July 18, 2013 (1:51 pm)

    Kim, I have been taking my car to Doyle Automotive Services over by the YMCA for years and they are honest, trustworthy, local and do a fantastic job.

    I am sad to see Barnecuts go, I have many memories as a child going their with my parents to get gas. They always trusted them to work on our cars as well. I went to school with Andy and from what I remember he was a nice kid. I wish the family much luck and happiness for their future and thank you for all you have given to the WS community!

  • Dhl July 18, 2013 (2:00 pm)

    Sad to see a West Seattle institution go but great memories and great family. Can’t wait for the party!!

  • Mike July 18, 2013 (2:13 pm)

    Tom’s, by the YMCA, is a great shop.

    • WSB July 18, 2013 (2:32 pm)

      Since this has been somewhat threadjacked, I will note that Tom’s (mentioned by Mike) and West Seattle Autoworks are longtime WSB sponsors and our sponsor team recently was joined by what I believe is now West Seattle’s sole remaining full-service station, Hegge Chevron at 35th/Holden. (Look for their “welcome” story soon.) – TR

  • Faith4 July 18, 2013 (2:14 pm)

    Doyle’s is really good. If you need a full service station similar to Barnecuts, the Chevron on 35th does some of the same thing Barnecuts did plus thy have a nice car wash & wax system. Courtesy Tire is also wonderful.

  • bob (formerly of west Seattle) July 18, 2013 (2:22 pm)

    Courtesy tire is the only place to take your car. They have worked on my Ford Explorer, Mercedes Benz 450SL, 380SEC and 600SL and a Honda. Before moving to California, I took my Volvo(still under factory warranty) to Courtesy for tires. Prior to that I got estimates from a big chain tire store around the block and they quoted me the wrong tire, my car has special tires due to the weight. The chain store also pressured me to have them installed that afternoon; my perception… it was “sleazy” selling. I went to Courtesy, they ordered the correct tires and had them installed within a few day, they also explained why I had to have this particular tire and not just an off the shelf tire. Having purchased newer cars, under warranty, I miss “the boys at Courtesy” I have recommended them to all my co-workers and friends for the past 15 years. If the boys cant fix it, they will tell you, if it is not right they will make it right. Say Hi to them for me.

  • Diane July 18, 2013 (2:51 pm)

    jeez; this man shares his life story and most of the comments are promoting their biz; tacky
    he’s same age as my dad; love the story; thanks for write-up TR

  • Anne July 18, 2013 (2:52 pm)

    Threadjacked indeed! Thanks to Dick & the whole Barnecut family for a lifetime of service to the West Seattle Community. I am in my 60’s & remember my grandfather taking his car
    to their station. Families & businesses like the Barnecuts are part of what makes living in West Seattle so special. Once again a heartfelt thank you!

  • Mark July 18, 2013 (2:57 pm)

    Mr. Barnecut –

    And thank you for your service in World War II.

  • Kristi Mandt July 18, 2013 (3:02 pm)

    I have gone to Barnecut’s for may years, they went above and beyond when my car wouldn’t start at my house or if I had a flat tire. I didn’t mind paying a bit more for gas to support a locally owned business who knew who I was. Everyone that worked there was really wonderful. It is so sad that independently owned gas stations are becoming a thing of the past. I totally understand their decision and wish them all the best!

  • sandy July 18, 2013 (3:08 pm)

    Doyle’s is terrific–completely honest and upfront–goes the extra mile for friendly service.

  • Kadoo July 18, 2013 (4:09 pm)

    I will miss Barnecuts. Have bought gas there for years. All the best to Dick and Dee, and Andy, though. Time for a new phase.

  • marianne July 18, 2013 (4:09 pm)

    I’ve been happy with Harrah’s Automotive next to the old Blockbuster in the Admiral district. Same neighborhood as Barnecut’s

  • visitor July 18, 2013 (5:02 pm)

    I loved that Andy would drive me home (about 10 blocks) when I left my car there for repairs. Thanks to the whole family for your wonderful service and courtesies over the years. I will miss you!!!

  • lala2mom July 18, 2013 (6:18 pm)

    Thanks to the Barnecuts for their service to the neighborhood!

    Harrah’s by the old Blockbuster is run by two longtime West Seattleites (WSHS grads)–fantastic guys with honest prices.

  • Lois July 18, 2013 (6:56 pm)

    This is a sad change. One of many to West Seattle in the last few year.
    The Barnecuts were always so friendly and helpful. They helped make the community a good place to live.
    We will miss them.

  • Tammi July 18, 2013 (7:51 pm)

    I’ve bought gas there over the years as well and had at least a few oil changes. Sad to see yet another local business close. Thank you– both for your military service to our country and to the West Seattle community.

  • Patti... & PJ, the car :) July 18, 2013 (8:53 pm)

    NOOOOO! I have an old car and I always took my car there for service (which was a lot because, well, it’s old!) – along with highly recommending them to anyone & everyone! They were always so helpful, HONEST, reliable & reasonably priced! It is so hard to find honest mechanics who know what they are doing & don’t break your budget with repair costs. What a terrible shame what this country and the gas industry is doing to small businesses.

    A HUGE THANK YOU to the Barnecuts & all their staff for the great service over the years!!! I wish you the very best, Andy, Dick & the rest of the Barnecuts’ staff!

  • NW July 18, 2013 (9:21 pm)

    When I was a kid riding my bike around west seattle and would get a flat or that slow leak I recall a number of times bringing my bike by and they would patch the tube don’t recall being charged either great story about this family business and thanks WSB for bringing it to us in the community and damn with big business coming in and pushing out the smaller competing businesses. Makes me think twice now about who and where I want to purchase from and support.

  • Lauren July 19, 2013 (8:46 am)

    I loved the old building and the people new and old who worked at Barnecuts. I continued to buy my gas there after the new building was put in because of the good service and because I knew it was a local and long-time family-run business. Thanks for staying with your principles as long as you could.
    The best to you and Andy!

  • Kitty Graham July 19, 2013 (1:07 pm)

    I am so disappointed that Barnecut’s has closed. I’ve been a customer there since 1980 when I moved to Seattle from Miami, Fl. (Andy was a student at the UW then.) After many bad auto care experiences in Florida, it was a wonderful surprise to meet people who are honest, friendly and reliable. I moved to North Seattle for a while but continued using Barnecuts for repairs and maintenance; after eventually returning to W. Seattle I resumed buying gas at Barnecuts even when nearby stations charged less. Thanks to Dick, Andy, Joanne and the young men who have helped with my car over the years. I will miss you so much! Can’t wait to see you at the party!

  • Don Gwilym July 19, 2013 (8:48 pm)

    We remember the wonderful service we have had for over 70 years in the hands of George, Dick, Andy and the staff. It is a Station and Service we could count on and be very proud of. Thank you the Gwilym Family

  • CJ July 19, 2013 (10:11 pm)

    While the Admiral District was changing so much, it was a source of comfort to know a long-time family-owned business was still holding their own, especially the day my car died right there at the light on Admiral and 41st. I pushed it to the side, walked over to Barnecut’s, and they helped me push it into their lot. I’m sad to see them go but certainly understand and wish them well.

  • Ray West July 20, 2013 (5:34 am)

    All things must pass, but that doesn’t make it any less sad, and this place truly will be missed by many for a long time. Barnecut’s was a real asset to West Seattle. Maybe they didn’t change with the times as they could have, but I really take umbrage at the city tax gouging them and other businesses for twice what property is worth.

  • Jennie July 20, 2013 (7:54 am)

    Great story. I had help from one of the guys that worked there with my tire that had gone flat. Super friendly and helpful. Hope you keep the free air for the tires as that is one reason we keep going there :)

  • agyop July 21, 2013 (1:32 pm)

    I have a 1972 Chrysler La Baron that Barnecut’s has kept going since new. Still runs like new too. Anyone interested in buying this memento of their good work. 841-4780

  • pat davis July 22, 2013 (10:30 pm)

    A tremendous loss to the our neighborhood. I have known Dick and Andy all the 40 years I have been here. “Hats off” to both of you for true customer service, hard work, and time to care about others. Safeway gas (don’t shop there !! hello?) crushed both of our West Seattle family owned business: Barnecut’s Shell (prev. Texaco) and Chevon (note: Marc Gartin and his father Cecil Gartin (as well as other family members) are well rooted in our west seattle history. Recall that when the Admiral Theater was going to be demolished by some big theater chain that Marc Gartin/Gartin’s bought it and the Chevron AND RESTORED THE ADMIRAL THEATRE. hello folks: THIS is who bought Barnecuts. Meanwhile: Does saving a few pennies a gallon at Safeway who CRUSHED OUR NEIGHBORHOOD GAS STATIONS really justify (those few pennies) bringing down/crushing family owned (families with generations here in W. Seattle) businesses? A true store: Andy walked over to Safeway to help a woman who’s car wouldn’t start. He got it going, and she drove it to Barnecuts. Came in and 1) used the bathroom and then had the stupidity to go across the street and buy gas at Safeway Gasoline! Do you really think ANYONE at Safeway gasoline would have helped her? And that she was so stupid as not to buy gas and ‘give back’ the favor done to her by getting gas at Barnecuts? How many people have I seen use the toilet, use their free air (you pay at Safeway) and then drive away without purchasing gas. We are looking at something more than the loss of Barnecuts (which is a huge loss) and that is a culture that seems not to value and support our SMALL BUSINESSES and realize that it takes for them to stay in business.
    Also, word has it that Andy MIGHT lease the repair area . If so: Andy you need to charge more for repairs (check out what dealerships charge) so you can make a profit.
    Why put in a mini-mart? Met Market is right next door and they have as quick a service as one could ask for.
    Might turn out to be another use?
    So: DECIDE WEST SEATTLE are you going to pay a few more PENNIES and support the new owner of Barnecuts (who helped save our Admiral Theater from being demolished?) Will you say’no’ to Safeway’s gall to come in here and crush our small businesses to death? So …THINK ABOUT IT.
    We lost SERVICE …..and maybe one day all we will have is the ‘giant’ safeway with it’s anonymous employees who don’t know you name, will never walk anywhere to get your car started and help you….where you pay for air, pay for water, and are irrelevant as a person and customer. That is what killed Barnecut’s – that people won’t pay a few cents more per gallon and keep a business that cares about you, knows you in business. Stop buying gas at Safeway or next we loose Chevron (another family with roots in west seattle who has been good to our community) Then: Safeway is king. Is that we are all about ? Or can we cought up a few pennies for something more meaningful. We lost Barnecuts – think about it.

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