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.