(L to R) Jerry Lindley, Jerry Mask, Dianne Mann, and Buddy Mann sit and shoot the breeze outside the Mask Service Station.
In sitting down for an interview to reflect on his 26 years doing business in Fayetteville, Jerry Mask was briefly interrupted by a phone call. A regular customer couldn't get her car started, so she called Jerry. He took down directions to her location and promised to have someone out to help shortly.
"That's the kind of thing people need," Jerry says after hanging up the phone, "and you don't see it much anymore. I look out for my customers."
Jerry Mask, now 68, has owned and operated the Mask Service Station since 1985. You can find the sort of small town, community feel at the Mask gas station that reflects a time when, as Jerry recalls, you "knew everybody," Highway 85 was just a two-lane road and the only businesses nearby were Melear's Barbecue and an appliance shop where Fayette Mower is now.
Jerry's is the only full-service gas station left in Fayetteville and he has a number of loyal, repeat customers because of it. Unfortunately, with the recent arrival of the Racetrac, Jerry sees that it's time for him to move on to a "new phase of his life." He says he will miss "coming down here every day, talking to the people."
Part of his decision to retire is just that he's ready, a little "tired" from all the years of getting up at 4 a.m. to get in at 5:30 and stay until 6 p.m. The other part is that the convenience stores like the new Racetrac just down 85 from his station have too many advantages.
"You can't compete with those folks," Mask said.
He points out, though, that while the Racetrac's prices are lower, they can't fill the role that his station does.
"Customers don't realize if my gas is ten cents more a gallon, then sure you save a dollar every ten gallons you buy, but I also check your oil and tire pressure. You don't get that at a convenience store," Mask said.
Many of his customers are older and rely on Mask to perform routine service on their cars.
"That's something people need," he says, "elderly people especially need it."
Jerry's fondest memories are of the the people that he saw every day, all the friends that he made.
"I'll miss coming here and seeing all those same people," he said. "I'll still see them of course from time to time, but that's the part I'll miss the most.
Every day I can count on seeing some of the same people; guys like Sam Jones, Dean Turner, and Tom Rush will come down at some point every morning to sit and talk, then they'll leave and usually come back again later in the day."
Dianne Mann and her husband Buddy were there at the time of the interview, sitting outside the shop in the Olympic benches and chatting, enjoying the day. Dianne says of the news of Jerry's retirement that she, "hates to see him go." She recalled how the Mask station used to be "the spot" in town where people would come to talk and, usually to tell "tall tales" she said laughing. "You could get all the local news right here."
In a letter to "customers and friends," Jerry thanked them for "giving me the opportunity to serve you." He writes that "a new phase of my life is beginning. I plan to spend more time with the ones that I hold dear to my heart and just enjoy life." That includes his four kids and many grandkids. He concludes it with a quote from Jean Baptiste Massieu, "Gratitude is the Memory of the Heart."
Jerry says he has someone interested in buying the business from him, and hopes that if that should happen, the community will "welcome" the new owner in the same way it did for him. It's obvious, though, that Jerry will take with him a spirit of customer care that is rarely seen anymore.