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Changes in stations reflect convenience trend

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Three new Marathon gas stations and convenience stores will follow an industry trend to provide customers with amenities beyond filling a gas tank.

The former Swifty gas stations on State Street, National Road and Jonathan Moore Pike will be renovated or rebuilt with new convenience stores, something most of the old stations never had.

Renovation cost estimates at the former Swifty sites range from $260,000 to $1 million, with the Jonathan Moore Pike station at the higher end.

Customers today want gas stations that are a one-stop-shop for everything, said Tim Russell, district manager for Casey’s General Store on State Street, which opened about two months ago.

“You can get groceries, and you can also get a quality fuel,” he said.

Branding gas stations with a higher emphasis on food, such as take-out pizza, is a new industry trend, especially in Indiana, Russell said.

Other services that could be added at new Marathon sites would be driven by retail services already established in the area and the traffic count, gas station consultant Jack Muellerleile said. He works in the real estate and the petroleum business in California, advising gas station owners on location and retail options.

“Usually, a new (station) would require at least 30,000 cars a day,” Muellerleile said. “People expect fuel, diesel fuel, a convenience store, and then from there on out it just depends on what’s absent in the trade area.”

Swifty services could return

While the new Marathon gas stations will have new stores and products, some features of the Swifty brand are likely to be brought back.

Discounts for customers who pay cash for gasoline will continue to be offered, which was popular among Columbus customers, said Trout Moser, an executive vice president with National Oil & Gas, the buyer of the former Swifty sites.

But even more popular could be the possibility, with store dealer approval, that employees at the new stations could pump gasoline for customers.

Bluffton-based National Oil & Gas purchased the three stations from Seymour-based Swifty Oil Co. in May with plans to build the new Marathons. The three Columbus Swifty stations were part of a group of 22 the company purchased this year, including 20 in Indiana.

The company then sold 14 of them, but under the condition that all of them honor the former Swifty discount of 3 cents per gallon when customers paid with cash.

National agreed to allow individual station managers to decide whether employees would pump gas at the stations.

Moser said residents near the stations had asked his company to keep the traditional Swifty services.

“There were definitely some of these sites in some of the demographics where the people came out of their way to Swifty for full service,” he said. “We’re going to try and continue that service.”

One of the keys to success for all three stations will be the convenience store, Moser said.

As gas stations moved to “pay-at-the-pump,” customers no longer had to go inside the station, he said. Encouraging customers to go inside for food, drinks or groceries increases profits for gas stations.

Demolition begins

Construction crews from Burns Builders of Avilla were at work Tuesday demolishing portions of the National Road Swifty building.

Crew member Gary Lehman said interior walls have been knocked down at the former State Street Swifty, but a building permit has not been issued yet, so the expansion construction hasn’t started.

The State Street site will retain the pump canopy and have the convenience store added, Moser said.

He said the new Marathon station there should open in 45 to 60 days.

The National Road site also will retain its pump canopy and replace the gas pumps, Moser said. The existing structure will be leveled, and a new convenience store will be built in its place, Moser said.

That station will be open for business in about 75 to 90 days, he said.

The former Swifty station on Jonathan Moore Pike will be all new, with eight gas pumps and a large convenience store to serve traffic from Interstate 65. The station will be set farther back from State Road 46 to the north, Moser said.

New pumps on the westside Marathon could have built-in TV screens that display national weather forecasts, sports scores, news and stock prices while customers pump gas.

That Jonathan Moore Pike location was sold to Harry Singh, president and chief executive officer of New York-based Bolla Oil Co., Moser said.

“They’re really building a Cadillac there,” Moser said, adding that it would be one of the largest gas stations in Columbus when completed.

“That (station) may not be finished until May next year,” he said.

Swifty closed its Columbus locations in May following the July 2012 death of Swifty Oil owner Don Myers at age 92.

Myers founded the company in 1963 with seven gasoline stations and eventually expanded it to more than 180 stations in five states.

Other Swifty gas stations in Muncie, Richmond, Anderson, Bloomington and Salem and Louisville, Kentucky, also were closed after Myers’ death.

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