Running the 'only game in town' at East Carbon-Sunnyside's Pup's Sinclair
In rural Utah keeping a local gas station open can be difficult, even when it's 20 miles from the next gas stop and the only game in town.
After Pup's Sinclair in East Carbon had been closed for more than four months in 2000, Jeramy Curtis decided he had had enough and approached the current owner about purchasing the store.
"Dave (Summers) was ready to sell to when I called and we made a deal," said Curtis, "But he was the first in a long line of creditors who took me at my word and sold me products and services at my word."
Throughout our conversation, Curtis continually thanked those who looked at his attitude and reputation before they looked at his credit or his age. Jeremy was 29 when he purchased the store, and looked much younger.
"I just couldn't stand not have a gas station here," said Curtis. "I would have to buy 10 five-gallon canisters of gas each weekend just to make it through the week."
Curtis would use the gas for his cars and recreational vehicles to avoid going to Wellington throughout the week.
"We were losing our town," he continued. "We had lost our school and then when the gas station shut down, it was like our community was going away and I couldn't stand to see it. I decided I was going to do everything I could to save Pups."
Curtis was given the chance, and began a crash course in business management that would forever change his young life.
"I had no idea about some of the costs that came along with being an owner," he said. "There were times I never thought we were going to make it."
To start, Curtis was forced to commit to a $13,000 upgrade on his point-of-sale equipment. The fees were also a surprise. For instance, Curtis is charged $80 a month for a secret shopper to come through his store from Sinclair.
The most complex experience Curtis had dealt with the changing cost of fuel and the amount of cash needed to consistently provide gasoline to his customers.
"That is another relationship that has been vital to my businesses," he said. "Ellis Pierce and Pierce Oil have saved this place a number of times. Ellis has been good to me. I could have never got this store off the ground if he wasn't willing to keep gas in my tanks."
According to Curtis, the honest relationship that has developed between him and Ellis has allowed many things to grow and prosper at Pup's, something that even his supporters weren't sure would ever happen.
"The first time I walked into Ellis' office he said, 'I don't mean to be rude, but how old are you son?' laughed Curtis. "I told him I was 29 and he said I didn't even look that old. I think I kind of looked like a deer caught in the headlights for most of that first year."
Curtis constantly has an internal debate about gas costs, wondering if he should change his prices as fuel costs change daily, or continue to charge his customers what he originally paid for the fuel.
So far, he charges what he pays, often at a loss to his store.
Despite the roller-coaster ride experienced by that first year Curtis, the shop remained steady, as East Carbon and Sunnyside residents once again got used to having a local convenience store that was open seven days a week. Pup's has been a major economic engine in the area as the Sinclair has been able to employee six citizens. The tax base they provide is also augmented by the community programs developed by Curtis and his wife Shanna.
Every year, the small station gives away four new bikes to children who participate in the annual Community Daze Parade. He also has began to sponsor kids involved in the Shop with a Cop program.
For most of the four years that Curtis has owned Pup's, he also worked a full time job for Savage Services. His employment was recently cut short, and subsequently he has been spending a lot more time at the store.
"It wasn't until I started spending my days here, that I realized just how much this community supports my operation," he said. "I see people who are working hard and struggling to get by spending their money here rather than going to Price and saving what they can at larger stores. It makes you feel like they appreciate what me and my family do to keep the store running."
While there are a great deal of vendors that supply products for the store, many of Pup's specialty items must be purchased by Curtis' wife Shanna on demand. She also handles a majority of the store's books. Crystal Thomas, Meagan Sullivan, Karla Young and Jeramy's parents Joe and Lorraine also work at the store, which doubles as the communities only maintenance shop. Pup's provides services, engine and transmission repair and just about anything else a local needs.
"We work hard for all of our customers," said Curtis. "But for the locals we see in here on a daily basis, we really would do just about anything they needed. There are disadvantages to living in a small town, but relationships like that make a small community great."