March 29, 2020

Exxon mechanic displaced in Searsport may have new home

SEARSPORT — After a two-month search, Ralph Webster had resigned himself to the fact that he could not relocate his Exxon service station on Route 1. As part of its expansion, the Penobscot Marine Museum had announced in late fall that it was purchasing the Exxon station and property on Main Street from Webber Oil Co., which leases to Webster. Webster’s lease was to end on Jan. 31 and the building to be demolished.

But on Thursday, Webster received a call from a competitor about a half mile east on Route 1 who had an unusual offer. Bain Pollard, co-owner of the Texaco station and convenience store on Main Street, asked Webster if he would consider leasing a two-stall service station beside the convenience store if it were built.

Webster had given up on relocating his decades-old business to another site on busy Route 1 and was looking for sites on back roads. He was immediately taken with Pollard’s proposal. Webster said that on Friday Webber Oil Co. had agreed to extend his lease until April 30 — a date by which Pollard is hoping to have enough of the service station built to take in Webster’s equipment.

R. Bruce Underwood, the president of the museum board of trustees, on Tuesday declined to comment on the status of extending the lease, but said that the board would likely discuss the subject at its executive meeting on Saturday. The museum received a donation to purchase the service station with the stipulation that the property not remain a gas station if purchased.

Many Searsport residents have opposed the planned purchase and demolition of the service station because of its full service pumps and the scope of its repair work, from oil changes to engine overhauls.

“This town has been raw since this whole thing happened,” Pollard said. “This could help patch up a lot of those hard feelings.”

Pollard is co-owner of Steamboat Partners Inc., with Jim VanUden. In addition to selling home heating oil, the company owns the Texaco station in Searsport and an Exxon service station in Winterport.

“We’ve got a property here that’s underutilized,” Pollard said Tuesday at the Searsport station. “This will give us a boost, but the real benefit I see is to the community.”

At this early point, Pollard plans to build a two-bay car wash, two-stall service station and a small office about 100 feet to the west of the convenience store. Pollard would continue to operate his convenience store and self-serve gas islands. Webster would operate full-service gas pumps and the repair business. Pollard said he is considering operating the car wash himself but has not decided yet.

Pollard had plans to build an adjoining car wash even as he had the station and store built two years ago. He said he needs to keep the costs of the project modest or else Webster won’t be able to afford the rent. He’s looking at a building cost of about $150,000, he said, and a monthly rent of $1,000. He plans on approaching the town planning board as soon as he believes his plans are firm enough for presentation.

But with Webster and his son, Andy, looking to get into the new digs by April 30, the pressure will be on Pollard to complete construction — a daunting task in a winter as capricious as this one.

“I hate to leave downtown,” Webster said. “But we’ll have great traffic flow out there — and that’s what you have to have.”

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