Mark Twain said rumours of his demise were greatly exaggerated. They could have also come from Joe Van Dun’s mouth.
The owner of Shell 21 in Petrolia is frustrated after nearly a year of rumours his business was closing.
To be clear, it’s not.
Van Dun has owned Shell 21 for 43 years, employing dozens of teens as gas jockeys. Over the years, different representatives of Shell have asked Van Dun to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to convert the gas bar to a self serve. He didn’t. His customers love full serve and Van Dun likes to employ Petrolia’s youth.
Right now 13 people work the pumps and the variety store.
In Dec. 2018, a Shell representative told him of the plans for a new Shell Self Serve across the road at a plaza which would include a McDonald’s. At the time, the representative suggested he might lose the franchise after the gas bar opened.
Van Dun planned to stay open and source his gas somewhere else.
But when the announcement of the new plaza hit the newspaper and social media in the spring of 2019, the rumours started flying.
Post after post said Van Dun was quitting or retiring. None of it was true but nothing he said could stop the rumour mill.
Then Monday, an article in The Sarnia Observer tipped the scale for one employee.
In an article about the new plaza – now under construction and expected to be open in the spring – Petrolia’s mayor and the owner of the plaza were quoted saying Shell 21 would close. The employee wrote to The Independent frustrated that now the rumour had been “confirmed” even though it was not true.
For his part, Van Dun got on the phone to contacts at Shell. They assured him he would continue to be a Shell customer and would continue to hold a franchise for as long as he wanted.
When Van Dun suggested he could take down the Shell sign, his representative told him that wasn’t necessary adding “everything will stay the same for you – no change.”
The whole experience has been frustrating for the long-time businessman.
“It’s frustrating, because, like we’ve been ever since we’ve heard about this, like I don’t know, for the last five to six weeks, it’s just been nothing but chatter, chatter, chatter, I’m closing out and going.”
He’s not going and he’s hoping to keep students employed.
“I don’t want to lose a whole bunch of staff that you might if you do go self serve, like all the boys lose their jobs. I don’t want to do that…
“I hope that I get enough customer base that will stay with me and keep that (full serve) going – that’s my goal.”