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Joyce Endee

Will Munce's Full Service gas station be lost to progress?

December 07, 2011
BERLIN – Will Berlin's last full-service gas station be lost when Munce's Superior Petroleum Products unloads its gas station and convenience store outlets? As part of its bankruptcy proceedings, the Gorham-based company is selling much of its real estate, including its only full service Pleasant Street station and refocusing on their core fuel delivery business.

Full service gas stations have been dwindling for years. An industry observer says it is unlikely that the prospective purchaser, CMRK, Inc. of Northborough, Mass, a real estate-holding company for convenience store conglomerate, Circle K, will continue to operate a full service station.

Offering full-service defeats the reason they sell gas, said Mathew LeLacheur, Executive Director of the New England Service Station and Automotive Repair Station, a trade group that represents 450 small, independent service stations, said, "low gas prices drive people" into the stores. The big operators aren't dependent on gas sales, he said, they're in the higher profit retail business.

Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., which owns the Circle K stores, has been growing quickly purchasing regional stores from smaller competitors. They recently purchase all 19 stores from the Brewer, Maine-based Dead River Company, and entered into management relationship with all of the Irving stores. Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc is the second largest convenience store operator in North America and the leader in Canada with some 5,875 outlets.

Robbie Munce has confirmed that their Munce's Konvience stores are being sold to a holding company for Circle K and it could be finalized at anytime. Because of the nature of the bankruptcy process, the principal owners are removed from much of the day-to-day operation and the sale of the company's assets.

Full service gas stations were once dominant, but have been declining for years. In a 2008, article in the Coos County Democrat just three remained in Coos County. They are Lufkin's Service Station in Whitefield, Limieux Garage in Colebrook, and Munce's Konvience store in Berlin.

"I guess it's going out the door with dinosaur," said Richard Cote, who runs the state Division of Weights and Measures in the Coos County Democrat. His department insures the accuracy of the approximately 3,000 gas pumps measuring devices. Of the 800 New Hampshire businesses that sell fuel, most are self service convenient stores, he adds. "The few full service stations that exist have been service stations for generations."

Munce's Pleasant Street station is their oldest, dating back to 1968. Over the years, they regularly hired high school students to pump gas, wash windows, check oil and tire levels. Robbie Munce grew up pumping gas and said in that 2008 interview, "It's an easy job, but it takes initiative. When it's nasty weather people don't want to pump their own gas." Munce, an Anglophone, had to learn to "make change in French." The service station was the local social center, he said, we were the "first to know the scores of the hockey games that were out of town," and people came not only to get gas, but also the news.

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