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Dried Up: Shell Station Unexpectedly Closes its Doors

Whitefish Bay's only gas station has been sold to a new owner after 51 years in business, 29 of which have been in its current location on Hampton Road.

One by one, drivers pulled into the lot of the old Harder's Shell station today expecting to fill up their gas tank, only to realize the gas pumps have disappeared and the store has been closed up.

"It just seemed so sudden," said customer Lori Ahrenhoerster. "I always got gas there."

The gas station at 303 E Hampton Road had been in business for decades before it closed Monday night. Harder's Amoco first opened in 1961 at Lydell Avenue and Hampton Road, and later switched to a Shell station and moved to its current location in 1983.

Gene Harder, who owns the gas station, said his parents sold the property without his knowledge for financial reasons. He said his dad retired in 1997, and he has operated the business ever since.

The sale of the Shell station has been very emotional for Harder, who has worked at the gas station for 45 years – ever since he was 12 years old.

"The phone's been ringing all day with people wondering what's going on," he said. "It's been very sad."

Village officials say they have not yet received any permit applications to reopen the business.

(This story was updated at 5:26 p.m. Oct. 2 to include comments from Gene Harder.)

KCK October 02, 2012 at 11:53 PM
Harder's Shell was our "go to" place for gasoline for the last ten years! Not only that, but we became quite friendly with Gene, who helped us out of a pinch regarding our cars several times. We will absolutely miss this place and especially Gene. So sad.
AWD October 03, 2012 at 12:30 AM
AWD will miss the Shell station. A Kwik Trip would be nice (very clean high quality gas) but the space is to small. Citgo is a U.S. refining and marketing firm that is a wholly owned subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil (Hugo Chavez), can't go there. The Clark station does not have clean enough gas for my 745. Where to go now for good gasoline?
Bob McBride October 03, 2012 at 02:10 AM
Were regular customers aware this was happening? Obviously they didn't get the place torn down to the point it is now in one day without some sort of preplanning. Awfully strange story....
Sara Conrad October 03, 2012 at 02:50 AM
I saw them taking down the sign and removing the pumps and didn't understand what the heck was going on. I loved that place & always had great conversations with the employees. I was planning on buying some Cooper tires there for my Mini Cooper after Gene recommended them. Crud. Another great local business bites the dust. :(
Mark Liccione October 03, 2012 at 03:02 AM
Wow! Nice parents. I just spoke to Gene Friday night....remembering how great it would to be 18 again....great guy with a good spirit. I would support him in any new venture he may start again. Maybe he can open a muscle car restoration biz. He can start with my '52 Ford F150 pick upand move on to the '69 Camaro. Maybe you can go back in time???
Bob McBride October 03, 2012 at 12:03 PM
Seeing as how this was, apparently, a surprise to Harder's kids, it's probably a good bet the Village doesn't know much more about it than they do. If you were going to reopen as a new station not affiliated with Shell, the disappearance of the pumps and all Shell-related signage immediately after closing would make sense. I don't know that there would be such a rush to get all that out of there were it a case of redeveloping the property as something else. There are also the underground tanks to contend with, if redevelopment is the plan, so it's not like demolition and ground busting would be imminent.
Laura Nankin October 03, 2012 at 01:27 PM
I spoke to an employee there last week. He told me the station was closing and Per Gene, his Dad sold it from under him. He told me the new owners were going to convert it to a gas station convenience store
Absolutelyfabulous October 03, 2012 at 01:41 PM
Village officials say they have not received any applications to reopen the business. OK. Have village officials been in discussions w/ the new owners to discuss/approve redevelopment proposals/zoning changes/financing for this property w/out any "input" from residents until after everything is agreed upon ie Mandel/Silver Spring? Also, something to consider..Is the Goodman-Bensman Funeral Home right next to the Harder's gas station a part of a larger redevelopment proposal? Is Goodman-Bensman staying put? I would think that if they were "out of the way" it would be more beneficial to any redevelopment proposal for that corner in terms of having a larger footprint and no stigma of being next to a funeral home.
Absolutelyfabulous October 03, 2012 at 01:49 PM
Bob- It would make sense that as soon as the current owners sell that any new owner would require any all potential liabilities ie tanks be removed as well as any/all signage associated w/ the previous business. Remediation is the case for most filling station locations, I would guess, especially since this has been in operation for at leat 50 years along w/ the service bays and all the fluids that came out of those areas ie oil/transmission/brake etc.. Remediation was also the case in Shorewood with the village subsidized mix use development on Oakland that replaced Matt Reichs Mobil where the Cornerstone development now sits. Then again, Bob Tuttle gas/service station sold out a few years ago in Shorewood to BP and they came in and built bigger w/out the service bays. Still would be interesting to see if Goodman-Bensman is a part of any larger redevelopment plans for that corner and if they have sold out as well.
David Tatarowicz October 03, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Most gasoline comes from a common source, They simply put in the additives that a particular brand is advertising that it puts in its gas. There may be some exceptions to this for a particular brand. In the past I saw the same fuel truck distribute gas to 4 different stations on the same strip, talking with the driver is when I found this out.
David Tatarowicz October 03, 2012 at 03:32 PM
@Bob Many franchise agreements have time frames in which all signage and references to brand must be removed, with liquidated damages owing for each day past the agreed upon time frame. They may have had to remove all that to comply with their agreement.
Bob McBride October 03, 2012 at 03:50 PM
Or it could be that the new owner wanted to get new pumps and stuff in place as soon as possible, so as not to lose Harder's regular customers. I guess we'll see what happens over the next few days and weeks. Regardless, based on what Laura said and what makes the most sense in terms of what's happened so far, it looks like another gas station is going in.
CowDung October 03, 2012 at 03:55 PM
If the new owners were looking to start back up as soon as possible, one would think that they would have contacted the city for the proper permits and such. I'm inclined to agree with David that the removal of all the Shell stuff has to do with the franchise agreement...
Bob McBride October 03, 2012 at 04:08 PM
That they had to have the pumps and signage down within one day of ceasing operation? I've seen gas stations close down before w/o the entire place, literally, disappearing overnight.
Been there done that October 03, 2012 at 04:11 PM
WFB's future appears to be banking on coffee shops, bakery shops, and now a convenience/gas station across from another convenience store CVS. Silver Spring is a ghost town with all the closings there. What's next? Family Dollar? Aldi? Maybe we can force another recall election so a political party can rent out some temporary retail space too.
Bob McBride October 03, 2012 at 05:17 PM
As long as Winkies and Sendik's are there, that's enough for most people, apparently. They'd like some restaurants too, but don't like the idea of actually creating a customer base for the restaurants. Ideally, several restauranteurs with other successful locations would be willing to put in 3 or 4 restaurants (pizza, family dining, fine dining, dining/sports bar/wine bar assortment would be ideal) that would serve anywhere from a half-dozen to a couple dozen people a night while using the proceeds from their other successful operations to subsidize their WFB locations. That way, if the average WFB family would like to go out to eat a couple of times a month, they wouldn't have to drive all the way to Shorewood. Yes, that would be nice.
287987 October 03, 2012 at 06:04 PM
Where are the 53% to go for good gasoline?
Bob McBride October 03, 2012 at 07:40 PM
Here's the story I got from some of the neighboring businesses. First, you guys were right. Shell wanted their stuff out of there as soon as they shut down, since they owned it. The Harders weren't making money off the gas pumping portion of the operation. I'm assuming there was some disagreement as to what to do about that (a lot of what I got came from someone with a very heavy accent). Gene's two brothers left the business about 6 months back, according to one of the sources. It sounds like some members of the family wanted to open up a car repair operation elsewhere. I'm guessing Gene didn't. Dad sold the property to "a Pakistani guy" (as described by one of the sources) who will be opening up the gas/convenience store operation in a couple of months. One source mentioned thinking the Harders would be opening up a repair place somewhere else. They'd been clearing inventory (selling cigs and other stuff at discount rates) for a couple weeks and had been moving the repair equipment out during that same period of time.
Kathleen October 03, 2012 at 08:11 PM
I'm very saddened and disappointed. I feel like a friend has suddenly vanished. I, too, will go wherever Gene might re-open business. Harders has serviced my cars for 15 years, and I've always felt I could depend on them. What a loss to the neighborhood.
A WFB Resident October 03, 2012 at 08:20 PM
03-41-001677 HARTERS AMOCO STATION Cleanup has been approved at this location but some contamination remains. Due to this remaining residual contamination, one or more continuing obligations are applicable to this location (e.g., an asphalt cap or other barrier covering the contamination). For information specific to the continuing obligations at this location, read the Closure Letter within the GIS Registry Packet in the Documents section below. For general information on managing continuing obligations and residual contamination click here. You must contact DNR before constructing a well. Remaining contamination must be properly handled if disturbed. http://dnr.wi.gov/botw/SetUpBasicSearchForm.do?rtn=rb i don't think anyone can build on this property and if they do, it will cost a fortune to remove. If I was the buyer, I would of gotten an occupancy permit first.
noodle vendor October 03, 2012 at 08:38 PM
Several months there was a storm that knocked power out to Harders and surrounding businesses & homes. That evening one of the local news crews was out interviewing those without power. One of the people they interviewed was identified as the owner of the Shell station at Hampton & Santa Monica. It was not Gene but a man of middle eastern decent. As I live close by I've noticed since that time changes in their hours, personal etc. Best to Gene, he was always very kind to my mom, picking here up, dropping her off, etc etc, service that can be a rare find these days
Absolutelyfabulous October 03, 2012 at 09:01 PM
You can build, it's just a matter of how extensive the cleanup would be. In Shorewood, the Cornerstone development received a $100,000 grant from the state of WI for cleanup on that site which housed a Mobil.
Bob McBride October 03, 2012 at 09:55 PM
If you're not altering the footprint of the building (which wouldn't be necessary to convert the service bays to a convenience store and do other modifications to the interior), it's probably not a concern.

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