Catchin’ a break |

Catchin’ a break

Falling gasoline prices are providing more than just relief to Nevada City Gas: The drop has allowed the mom-and-pop gas station to reopen for business after being closed for the past four months.

The run-up in gasoline to more than $4 per gallon led to the closure of the old-fashioned gas station at 435 South Pine St., where an attendant gladly pumps your gas and washes your car’s windshield.

The closure was related to the station’s older mechanical pumps, according to its owner. Their spinning dials were not designed to sell gas priced any higher than $4, so the pump could not accurately calculate sales.

“Our equipment is kind of antiquated,” said owner Evelyn Walsh of Nevada City, who bought the station with her husband, Mike, in 1981, though she said the pumps meet all the current regulatory standards.

Mom-and-pop gas stations across the nation have faced similar problems with the run-up in gas prices. As many as 8,500 of the nation’s 170,000 service stations have the old-style meters, about 17,000 individual pumps, according to the Petroleum Equipment Institute in Tulsa, Okla. New electronic pumps can cost $10,000, though mechanical meters can be retrofitted for closer to $1,000.

To get around the problem, some stations opted for half-pricing, providing the state had approved the practice. Half-pricing refers to showing the price for a half-gallon of gas, then doubling the price shown on the meter. The practice can be confusing to consumers, however.

Nevada City Gas had been closed since May 22, with a sign reading, “Closed for repairs.”

With gas selling below $4 a gallon, $3.89 to be exact for unleaded regular, the station reopened this week. A red neon sign, a more modern touch, reads “open.”

On Thursday, the dials were whirring away as customers stopped for fill-ups and chatted with the attendant while he cleaned their car’s windows.

“We cater to the residents in town,” Walsh said. “We like the old style where you come in contact with the customer. You can talk about the weather and get to know people and their kids. It’s a good atmosphere.”

Seniors enjoy the convenience of full-service fill-ups, and all the customers like it when it’s raining, according to attendant Michael Payne.

Though now open, the station expects to shut down again, at least for a while, Walsh said.

In about a month the station will close to upgrade its pumps with a new vapor recovery system, required of all gas stations by April 2009, she said. The closure is expected to last about three months.

The owners haven’t decided whether to join the “cashless society” and accept credit cards when the station modernizes. It depends on the cost of the system, Walsh said.

Nevada City has been home to the Walshes since 1970.

Nevada City Gas is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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