Where will elderly people, handicapped folks, or busy mothers with small children go to have a friendly attendant fill their gas tanks after this weekend?

That’s a difficult question, because Gary Little, owner of Gary’s Service Station (not Gary’s Conoco, he was careful to tell us) is closing the only full-service gas and service station in Missoula after this weekend.

Gary Little sat down and shared the history of his iconic business with us on Wednesday afternoon.

“I’ve been 57 years at this location,” began Little. “In 1965 I leased it from Conoco and then over the years ownership changed a couple of times and the Tremper brothers ended up owning it and then they sold it to me in 1998. So I’ve been here all that time.”

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Little looked back on the long years and thousands of cars and trucks that have passed and filled up at Gary's on South Higgins while he pumped gas and did car repairs and noted how times have changed in his profession.

“When I first started, there was a gas station almost on every corner, in fact, there were 54 of them in Missoula, and we were all full service,” he said. “We were all competing against each other with different brands of gas, but we all did the same kind of repair work and service. And we all did pretty good, you know, we were able to make a living. Then somebody started selling self-service gas, and that's when everything started to go south for so many places. It was tough for us for a long time too, but that's what thinned out most of the real service stations.”

Little charged more for full service, but he said his faithful customers didn’t mind because they so appreciated someone coming out and filling the tank while checking the oil and tires.

You could hear the compassion in his voice as he said he was worried that many of those customers will have no other place to go for that kind of full service.

“The full-service gas for, say a pregnant lady with two kids and doesn't want to get out of the car and come and go inside or for crippled people,” he said. “We have a lot of crippled customers. I just don't have an answer for them. They're going to have to come up with whatever works for them, you know a grandson or a friend or somebody who's going to have to help them out.”

So, what’s next for Gary Little when this coming Monday rolls around?

“Okay, 57 years, I want to retire,” he said with a chuckle. “I'm 80 years old, and I want to quit. That's the reason. My son Tim works with me, but he's not at retirement age. So he's going to have to find employment elsewhere, but that won't be a problem. He's very well-liked and has numerous skills and that won't be a problem at all. But unfortunately, he can't retire at the same time that I do.”

Credit: Peter Christian
Credit: Peter Christian

It’s not often that I get to shake hands with an icon, but it was a pleasure to meet Gary Little in person, especially since he said he’s a faithful KGVO listener and loves Talk Back.

Best wishes to Gary Little and Gary’s Conoco, I mean, Gary’s Service Station, the end of an era in Missoula.

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