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Denise Coombs bid farewell to customers at the Fast Stop Fuels in Pendleton last week as the store closed for good on June 29.
After 35 years in operation in Pendleton, it’s hard for Fast Stop Fuels customers to imagine the business, manager Denise Coombs and the employees not being there.
But the family gas station founded by Milburn Eldridge shut its doors June 29, according to Coombs.
One exchange between Coombs and a customer who noticed the items on the shelves disappearing went like this:
“We’re closing the store on Sunday, that’s why the inventory’s so low,” Coombs said.
“You’re closing the store?” the customer responded. “What am I supposed to do?”
Another customer jokingly asked if Coombs and another employee had been cutting onion because their eyes had filled with tears.
Coombs has overseen the operation of Fast Stop ever since day one — Aug. 20, 1979 — when at the time she sat in a little shack by the gas pumps.
Eldridge added the convenience store two years later — the same building that served the community for 33 years.
“This has been a hub for everybody to loaf and get the news,” she said. “In my office, sometimes, there would be five or six people just standing around chit chatting.”
Coombs got the job after Eldridge, who worked on furnaces, was doing just that at her parents house, when he mentioned that he wanted to talk to their daughters about something.
Eldridge wanted the Pendleton gas station to be a part of the businesses that he could pass down to his sons, Coombs explained. She also felt extremely close to Eldridge.
She described Eldridge as jolly and very active, coming by the store every day, having coffee, visiting and doing any maintenance needed.
“He was just a dad to me and that’s why I get so emotional,” Coombs said. “You think well, that’s a part of me and him and that’s a part I’m going to lose and that’s why I get so emotional.”
Having a good team to work in the store also made for a great 35 years, she added. Many of her hires stayed long term, anywhere between 10 and 25 years.
“I didn’t have a lot of turnover,” Coombs said. “I haven’t had a lot of the headaches — a lot of convenience stores don’t get that.”
The family never put the store up for sale, but Coombs’ understanding is that the ownership will soon change and a new business will reopen after renovations. She did not specify the new owner.
Coombs does not plan to operate stores for anyone else now.
“They (the Eldridge family) said, ‘We’ll keep this store open as long as you want to work,” Coombs said.
She believes it’s time to retire, and she and her husband will be able to travel.
“It’s just been my life,” Coombs said about the store. “It’s going to be so funny to just have a vacation and not have to worry about business.”