BELLOWS FALLS -- It hurt Tony James' heart to know the Shell gas station on Westminster Street was falling on hard times.
He grew up about seven doors down from the business and drove past it every day on his way to his own company, James Plumbing & Heating Oil, on Paper Mill Road. So the Bellows Falls native decided to try to purchase the establishment from owner Rick Fleming.
James said he and Fleming started hammering out an agreement and the business, now under the name of James Petro LLC, changed hands on April 18. Fleming was forced to close down the gas station on March 8, but James reopened it on May 2. He and fiancée Dianna Liberty said there will likely be a grand re-opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony as soon as some finishing touches get done.
James told the Reformer he is glad to have the lengthy legal process completed so he can focus his energies on his businesses.
"I think the main reason (behind wanting to buy it) is being born and raised here and seeing a lot of businesses over the years close and homes get foreclosed on," he said. "(The gas station) is a place I don't want to see fall to pieces."
James, 46, said business has picked up "a lot better and a lot faster" than he anticipated and he is very grateful to the community for welcoming back the gas station. The site still hosts a Vermont Liquor Outlet, which Liberty said has been managed by Denise Labby for 22 years. The station still offers Shell gasoline and has a self-serve beverage bar in addition to an assortment of convenience items.
Liberty, who is also the office manager, explained that the store has been remodeled and James, a patriotic man, has decked it out in red, white and blue. She said her fiance's father started James Plumbing in 1967 and Tony opened James and James Oil in the same office in 1996 before buying out his parents in 2010. Liberty said Tony is thrilled to finally get the gas station under his ownership.
"He is very relieved and it seems to be getting really busy," she said. "The regulars are coming back."
Roger Riccio, the executive director of the Great Falls Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber plans to host a ribbon-cutting ceremony as soon as James is ready. He told the Reformer it is refreshing to see a well-known local business get resurrected instead of closed and abandoned.
"We're always happy when new businesses start or when people take over old businesses," he said. "They've done a really nice job. They painted and cleaned it up and it looks really nice. And they retained the old staff, so those people are back to work."
The hours of operation are 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.