Perry gas station owner still provides full service after 50 years

awoolen@macon.comNovember 21, 2012 

PERRY -- Robert Lumpkin Jr. has seen his share of changes.

At Lumpkin Shell Station, though, time seems to have stopped in 1962, when he bought the gas station at the age of 19.

Gas pumps with credit card machines cannot be found at this store, instead there is a drive-thru window. Some of Lumpkin’s loyal customers send him a check each month to pay for their gas.

A sign at the gas pumps still reads, “Full or Self Service.”

Lumpkin’s employees top off fluids, pump gas and deliver a kind of service lost to the current generation, for whom swiping cards at the pumps is the norm.

And this service is what has kept the gas station in business for 50 years, making it the oldest black-owned business in Perry, according to the Perry Area Chamber of Commerce, which recently gave Lumpkin an award for the milestone.

Lumpkin, who just turned 70, greets most of his customers by first name.

“If they don’t know us, they’re not from Perry,” he said.

Lumpkin worked for Hodges Milton for about two years before Milton retired and handed the business to Lumpkin. Lumpkin attributes his success to the direction he received from his former boss.

“I owe all of my success to Milton,” Lumpkin said.

He is the oldest of 12 children. His brother, Carl Lumpkin, and his sister, Catherine Johnson, work for him.

Most of his employees have worked for him for 10 years or more.

Mary McCarter, who works the cash register inside the store, has worked with Lumpkin for 10 years at the gas station and was at a liquor store he owned for two years before that.

“We still do it the old-timey way,” she said.

Lumpkin doesn’t pump gas or fix cars anymore. Mainly, he said, his job is keeping his customers happy.

“I mostly just talk to the customers,” he said.

And those who have been coming to the station for years can attest to the level of service Lumpkin provides.

“He’s a man you can trust,” said long-time customer Leon Allen of Perry.

Retired pastor the Rev. W. Ray Hill and his wife, Myldred Hill, a retired educator from Fort Valley State University, met Lumpkin at the recommendation of a neighbor after moving to Perry from Griffin in 1994.

“If Lumpkin says so, you can take it to the bank,” Myldred Hill said.

She and her husband felt honored to be provided some chairs to sit inside the store because Lumpkin has a strict no loitering policy.

W. Hill recalled a time after he and his wife moved to Perry and Lumpkin’s service station was open seven days a week. It took several months of persuasion, but the pastor talked Lumpkin into closing the business Sundays.

The gas station and repair shop is now open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Surrounded by his friends, employees and family, Lumpkin has no plans to retire anytime soon.

“Well, this is the only thing I know how to do,” he said.

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