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    Popular Florida Station Calls it Quits After 30 Years

    Residents praised personal service, but competition and tough economic times have taken a toll.

    WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- A picture of Dan Williams hangs on the wall of the Chevron station he built nearly 30 years ago in Winter Haven, Fla. The black-and-white photo, taken in the 1950s, shows a young Williams in full attendant's uniform, smiling through a car's windshield as he wipes the glass clean. A lot has changed since then.

    Competition and tough economic climates have done away with most full-service gas stations. Even though the Williams Service Center Inc. has held on for almost three decades by doing business with a personal touch, the Williams family is calling it quits.

    "It's just been a struggle to make a living. I could let the stress kill me, but I just don't want to do it," Danny Williams told the Polk (Fla.) News Chief.

    Danny, along with his wife, Ethel, and brother, Ray, have operated the station since the elder Williams retired 10 years ago. Dan Williams moved the business from Austell, Ga., in 1973, opening the new station in October of that year. Since then, the family has learned to survive: When Chevron closed a number of its stations in the east about five years ago, the Williams family kept theirs open by purchasing it from the company.

    Even as convenience stores sprang up in the surrounding area, offering cheaper gas without full service, the Williams Chevron continued to meet customers at the pump, checking their cars and taking a moment to chat.

    "Some of the customers have been coming here so long, you get to know them really well," said Les Bell, an attendant at the station for more than 10 years. "They're like family."

    Ray Williams said those loyal customers have helped keep the station open. He said many of his elderly customers appreciate the extra assistance and the city's winter residents frequent the Chevron to savor the nostalgia of a full-service station. But providing full service and keeping the garage and car wash open has come at too high a cost.

    "There's no money in it anymore for oil companies. The volume of sales doesn't meet our overhead," Ray said.

    Ray Williams said his family started closing the station on Sundays at the beginning of the year and scaled back their hours of operation. After months of struggling, he said, the Williamses are ready to move on.

    "There's so much stress involved. We're going to look for something else," Ray said. "This is all I've ever done, I don't know what else to do. Just like my brother, this is all we've ever done."

    The family has not finalized their last day of business, but Ray says the station will shut its doors for good "when the gas runs out."

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