Pat Grogan wears a blue shirt with the words Pawtuxet Sunoco over the left side of his chest. It is one of the few signs of what was one of the village’s long operating service stations. Gone are the gas pumps and the canopy. The sign that still stands reads “Pawtuxet Auto Service.” Sunoco wants it that way; all references to the company are to be gone now that, after 43 years, Grogan isn’t pumping gas any longer.
Grogan was found outside one of the station’s open bays Friday afternoon. He was telling a customer the options he faced following enactment of legislation requiring double-walled underground tanks. He went through it again, saying he could have left things as they were, only he wouldn’t be pumping gas. He could have replaced the tanks or, as he chose to do, unearth the three 8,000-gallon gas tanks and 1,000-gallon holding tank for used oil.
“When they came out of the ground, they could have been hosed off and they would have looked as new as the day they went in,” Grogan said of the three fiberglass tanks he installed in 1986. He never had a leak in any of the tanks. He knows because he daily pulled checks on the tanks and filed that information as required.
Replacing the tanks with new ones, he estimates, could have cost close to $400,000. It didn’t make sense. The return on the sale of gas didn’t justify it, but more than that, he didn’t see a future for the business. His son is a teacher and has no plans of following in his father’s footsteps.
“This is a big man’s game,” he said.
If Grogan is bitter, he doesn’t show it. Being a service station only is a new chapter in what has become an intimate relationship with Pawtuxet. He is upbeat over the prospects.
“It isn’t about the money,” Grogan says of his work, “it’s about being happy going to work and living every day.”
The money side of running the station wasn’t going to make anyone rich. Annual gas sales were about $1.3 million. Grogan found, “I was just passing money on to other people. I was self-employed as an unpaid tax collector.”
On top of payroll and property taxes, he was faced with collecting and paying sales tax and the gasoline tax that is 53 cents a gallon. Loss of the gasoline business – Pawtuxet Sunoco was one of the few remaining full service stations where an employee pumped gas – meant laying off three employees. It’s made for shorter hours and being closed on Sundays. It also means a separation with Sunoco, where he was one of the few “small” players to serve on the company’s member advisory board.
What he can’t lose is the feeling he has as a member of the village.
Grogan grew up in Warwick, graduating from Pilgrim High School. He’s amazed that even today his baseball coach, Tom Mezzanotte, remembers him as a left-handed batter. They stay in touch. And he said if it hadn’t been for Ralph Hoffman, who went on to become principal, he wouldn’t have developed a love for history, which became his major at the University of Rhode Island.
Grogan has seen the village has transitioned from the days of Cameron’s Drug and Lindsay’s Market. He’s encouraged by the businesses in the village.
“The community is getting so much better; there’s more night traffic.” Much of that he attributes to more restaurants and activity. In particular, he cites the efforts of the Friends of Pawtuxet, the Pawtuxet Village Association and the Gaspee Days Committee.
“People see how important businesses are; without them we’re just Broad Street,” he said.
When he started off the village business leaders were longtime members of the community.
“They were all grown men and I’m a kid,” he said.
Now he finds the business has become one of the “anchors” of the village and that he and Walter Rix at Hunter’s Garage at the Warwick end of the bridge are the “cornerstones.”
“We’re the old lions, so to speak,” he says.
By today’s standards, Grogan is not that old. He’s 67.
At some point he would like to sell the business to one of the guys he works with. But there seems to be no rush to do that.
Referring to himself, he said, “You serve the community, and that’s what I like and why I’m still here.”