ALBANY, Ga. -- When one of his guys told him the station was out of regular gasoline, reality smacked Tom Gieryic upside the head.
"It became real then," Gieryic said.
After working for 30 years, the last 11 as owner, at one of Albany's -- actually one of America's -- last honest-to-God full-service, fill-'er-up, wash the windows and check the oil, what's that ping in my engine gas stations, Gieryic's Dawson Road Citgo Station is selling its last remaining gallons of fuel.
Oh, Gieryic's will still provide the mechanic work it has for decades, but all the regulars who buy their gas at the station will have to find another fuel source. The friendly little gas station on the corner will become Gieryic's Dawson Road Automotive Repair, and another piece of the region's history will pass quietly away.
"This is actually hard for me to do," Gieryic, pronounced Gar-ick for those who've always wondered, said Thursday. "This place has been a part of my life for so long now. But we were in a position where we had no other choice.
"In the old days, we'd pump 120,000 gallons of gas here a month, and 90 percent of it was for full-service customers. As more and more convenience stores moved into the area, our volume dropped. Today, our full-service sales, for which we charge more, have reversed themselves. We do less than 10 percent full-service sales today."
That is only one part of the new reality brought on by America's current energy crisis.
"People have a hard time understanding this," Gieryic said, "but the average profit we make on self-service regular unleaded gasoline is 4 cents a gallon. When we swipe a credit card for a customer, it costs us an average of 3 percent on the dollar. If a gallon of gas is $3, which is where it's headed, we average losing anywhere from 4 to 5 cents a gallon with credit card customers.
"I've known that for years, and getting out is really a no-brainer. But I just didn't have the heart to make the move until I absolutely had to."
The reason for Gieryic's reluctance to stop selling gas? He didn't want long-time employees Ben Jacks and James Fitzgerald, who are as much a part of the station as the gas pumps and the oil bays, to be without work.
Jacks, 82, has been working at the station for 23 1/2 years, while Fitzgerald, 64, has been there for more than 20.
"I am going to do everything I can to keep these guys in my employment," Gieryic said. "They have meant a lot to this business, and I think it has meant a lot to them. I'm going to restructure things and keep them on for as long as I can afford to do so."
The pair, who were on the job Thursday, pumping gas, checking oil and tires, washing windshields and taking a look at other minor customer needs, said they're grateful for the opportunity to keep working.
"If you want to know the truth, I don't think Tom's going to be able to keep us here for long," Fitzgerald said. "I don't know if there will be a need for all of us once he makes the change."
But that doesn't mean the pair will sit around and worry about their jobs.
"We're just going to keep doing everything we can, work for as long as we're needed," Jacks said.
Gieryic's refusal to sell fuel containing ethanol is also a factor in his dwindling profit margins.
"Non-ethanol fuel, what is called conventional fuel, is typically 6 cents to 8 cents a gallon higher in cost," he said. "And while most engines can handle 10 percent ethanol with no problem, the BTUs in ethanol lower gas mileage. Plus, if the gasoline and alcohol separate, as they do if ethanol sits for an extended period of time, some of the mix can contain up to 15 percent alcohol, and that's not good for your engine.
"On 2-cycle engines -- boats, four-wheelers -- the alcohol in ethanol can wreak havoc. And we have a lot of customers with boats. So I just decided I would not carry ethanol."
Gieryic's has maybe 2,500 gallons of gas left in its storage tanks. The station is selling its mid-grade now at regular-grade price -- 7 cents cheaper than anywhere else around -- and when the station runs out of mid-grade, it will sell its supply of premium at regular prices.
"Once we're done, we're done," Gieryic said. "We'll remove the tanks and the dispensers, do everything required by EPD, and we'll put up signage letting everyone know that we're 100 percent in the automotive repair business."
Gieryic and his staff -- in addition to Jacks and Fitzgerald, shop manager/certified technician Ricky Hunt, certified tech Joey Coffey, and maintenance techs Carl Lowe, Raymond Major and Arthur Britton -- work on engines, diagnostics, tires, batteries, brakes, rear axles, and do general maintenance like tune-ups, oil changes and installation of belts and hoses.
"Except for transmissions, there's not a lot we don't do," Gieryic said. "What we like to say is we do taillights to engines and everything in between. We're very strong in diagnostics. We have a $7,000 tool unit just like the one you'll see at a Ford dealership; a $6,000 GM unit, and a $15,000 unit that allows us to work on Asian and some European vehicles, as well as other domestic models.
"We just have to let people know what we can do. I had a long-time customer come in one day for an oil change, and he said he had a problem with a heater cord on his Blazer. I told him to bring it in and let us look at it, and he said, 'You guys work on cars?' Goodyear, Firestone, independent mechanics, some of the area body shops ... they all send cars here. We have that kind of reputation."
Of course, Gieryic's also has a reputation as the friendliest and most efficient gas station in town. That will end soon.
"While we want to thank our gas customers for years and years of loyalty, we want to remind them that we'll still be here for maintenance and repairs," Gieryick said. "We've been kind of telling everyone the news over the last couple of weeks, and we've had folks who've actually wiped away tears.
"I have mixed emotions, but we're all ready to move on. I always say everyone who works here is a sales person, and my employees know I will fire a guy for four things: lying, cheating, tardiness and selling someone something they don't need. If there's something I won't put in my car, I won't put it in yours. Our goal here is to become a part of our customers' extended family."
Some things never change.