Potrero Hill Gasoline Station Thrives As Pump Population Shrinks

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As the number of gasoline stations in San Francisco steadily declines, one facility, located at Potrero Hill’s western edge, is thriving. Performance Shell, at 17th Street and Potrero Avenue, attracts a steady stream of customers, who refuel, grab a snack or lunch at a taco truck parked on the corner, or get their car serviced.

According to owner and San Francisco native, Eric Fazio, his business has been growing, even as or perhaps because developers are buying up fueling stations and replacing them with housing.  “A lot of these gas stations are on prime property,” Fazio said.

The San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency has been priming residents to think of public transit first for years.  But in the last 10 years the City’s automobile population has increased, according to California Department of Motor Vehicles data.  Last year, the number of vehicles registered to San Francisco residents jumped by 4,410, to 407,656.  The location of the City’s car population has also shifted.  During the ought’s Noe Valley’s and South-of-Market’s car populations shrunk – by between three and 14 percent – while Bayview’s, Mission’s, Potrero Hill’s, and Visitacion Valley’s jumped, by between seven and 37 percent.  In 2002, per capita automobile ownership in Bayview was slightly lower than the Citywide average; in 2011 it was higher, with 713 cars per 1,000 residents in that neighborhood.  The Hill has followed a similar pattern, with car concentration rising from 498 per 1,000 in 2002 to 631 per 1,000 in 2011.

In addition to demands created by a growing car population and shrinking gas station supply, Fazio said his business may be attracting customers because of what he offers:  fuel, full-service auto repairs, smog checks, and even food from a taco truck on the corner under the red and yellow Shell sign.  The truck is there from roughly 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday and sometimes on the weekends. Fewer stations in San Francisco offer the same level of comprehensive service, which was common 20 or 30 years ago.

Fazio’s crew conducts smog checks seven days a week, and will inspect tire pressure, oil and coolant levels during business hours.  Air and water is free with a gas purchase.  The station’s Facebook page shows off the historic cars that Fazio’s crew has repaired, such as a 1969 Buick Skylark.

Fazio, who grew up in Diamond Heights, started working at the station as a teenager.  He took over as sole owner four years ago from his brother; his family once owned three stations in the City.  The Hill location has been in business on the same corner for a quarter century.

According to the San Francisco Assessor-Recorder’s Office, at the end of June 2008, 166 gas stations were on the tax rolls. That number dropped to 163 in 2013, and at the end of last year had shrunk to 154. Developers bought at least two gas stations located in the Castro since the housing boom started in San Francisco a few years ago.  Fazio said he’s had a few offers, but he’s not interested in selling.

Across the intersection at 17th Street and Potrero Avenue is a 76 station. The owners declined to comment for this story.

Nationwide, the number of gas stations declined from 202,800 in 1994 to 156,065 in 2012 and 152,995 in 2013, according to National Association of Convenience Stores reports.