Despite self-service gas stations being in every state except Oregon and New Jersey, some full-service stations still have open doors, including in Lebanon County. Craig Miller, co-owner of Market Square Service Station on North 9th St. in Lebanon, shared how his family business has shifted through the years since his father opened it in 1953.
Back in the fifties, sixties, and seventies, customers would pull up to Market Square to be met with attendants sporting dress shirts, slacks, and bowties, waiting to pump gas for them at prices as low as 17 cents a gallon. Market Square was a garage that customers could rely on to provide gas and other small services with excellence. Not only did the employees dress to impress, but the building itself had sparkling white porcelain walls and a squeaky-clean interior.
“At that time, we pumped gas,” Miller said. “It was a gas station. Back in the day, every car that came in for gas, we’d wash the windshield, wash the back window, check the oil, and even back before that, you’d check all the fluids and the tires. It was just the thing you did.”
Services and building aside, the environment itself of Market Square was altogether different.
“It was a different world,” Miller said. “That’s what this is from – a different world. People used to come in and hang out. When I was a kid, I used to work here. We were open 24 hours a day. 10 o’clock at night, 12 o’clock at night, cars were lined up the street waiting to come in and get gas.”
The demand was particularly high during the fuel shortage in the early 1970s. Miller shared how busy he remembered the station being.
“They were just talking about the fuel shortage with the pipeline being shut down,” Miller said. “That wasn’t a fuel shortage. A fuel shortage was when we didn’t have fuel all over the country. We’d put a sign out, ‘Open at One.’ One to three we’d be open for gas, and they’d line up.”
During the shortage, whether one’s license plate ended in an even number or an odd number decided when they could fill their car with gasoline. Odd-numbered and even-numbered plates would alternate every other day. Market Square would limit just how much customers could buy.
When self-service began to take over the gasoline scene, Market Square could not compete with the other stations’ prices or convenience. While still pumping gas, the team at Market Square began to offer other services, which is what keeps it going now.
“Well, that, of course, went all by the wayside with the becoming of self-service, so we got more into the repair, you know, inspections and vehicle service, and all phases of car repair,” Miller said.
After Craig Miller and his brother, Michael Miller, purchased the station from their father in 1996, Market Square also began to sell used cars. Still, the Miller brothers are most proud of how they have taken the excellent service that was once at the gas pump and brought it to the repair garage.
Gasoline is still available at Market Square but is rarely the sole reason why customers bring their vehicles there anymore.
“Most of our customers for gas anymore are elderly people who don’t want to pump the gas themselves,” Miller said. “I mean that’s pretty much what it is anymore, because being small like we are, our prices can’t be as competitive [with chains such as Sheetz and Rutter’s and Turkey Hill]. Everything’s totally changed because you go to the Sheetz and you put your credit card in, you put your gas in, and boom, you’re out of there, and then in the meantime, you might go in there and buy a sandwich or coffee or drink, and you’re out of there.”
While the operating Market Square looks quite different than how it did in its early years, Miller shared his thankfulness and contentment with their loyal customer base.
“People got used to going to the same garage,” Miller said. “They did your repairs, your inspections, your vehicle service, sold your gas, and you depended on them. And that’s how our customers are now. It’s just enough for my brother and I, and that’s all we need.”
Market Square Service Station not only demonstrates the power of adaptability but how much interesting history the business right down the street can be steeped in.