Local Business Threatened by Gas Tycoon
West Springfield Car Care, in business for 10 years, faces sudden eviction; customers, community, local government officials fighting back.
West Springfield Car Care is a locally owned small business that has served the community for over a decade. On a Friday in June, owner Brent Roberts received an eviction notice telling him he had to be out by 5 p.m. the following Monday.
The notice came from Capitol Petroleum Group (CPG), based in Springfield. Owned by Eyob "Joe" Mamo, CPG and its affiliates currently own, operate or supply more than 200 retail sites in the metropolitan D.C. region and in the three New York boroughs of Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx, according to the company's web site.
Roberts' attorneys were able to stay the immediate eviction, but a second notice soon followed with a July 20 deadline.
"We have a successful business with a loyal customer base of 11,000 people," said Roberts. "I don't know why they are pushing us out for no reason, when we've served the community for the last 12 years."
Roberts bought the business in 2000, with a contract with Exxon Mobil. In 2009, Exxon Mobil transferred the contract to Capitol Petroleum. The contract was renewed in 2009, and it included a five-year extension, which began in March 2012. Roberts said CPG is using a loophole to break the contract.
Burke Patch has attempted to contact Capitol Petroleum Group for comment, but as of Sunday, July 8, at 9 p.m., we had not yet received a response.
Government officials have taken up the call. Sen. Dave Marsden (D-37th) wrote on Facebook that he plans to be "in touch with the Capitol Petroleum Group to discuss their plans for this great local business. Our small businesses know the community the best, and it would be a great loss to all of us if West Springfield Car Care was to close."
"West Springfield Car Care has been a pillar of the West Springfield community for years," said Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity. "The guys there do a great job and are extremely well known for the excellent service they provide their customers, and their generosity to our local youth sports teams and community groups," he said. "I have heard from many constituents in the community about the pending closure, and I will continue to do what I can to see it worked out so they can stay at this location.”
This is not the first time Mamo has angered local owners and communities.
In 2009, Exxon Mobil asked a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit filed by dealers wishing to block the assignment of their station franchises to "jobbers." A jobber is a petroleum marketer (person or company) that purchases quantities of refined fuel directly from refining companies.
The list of jobbers in the lawsuit included Mamo. Mamo’s company purchased properties, including locations in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, as part of a bigger deal with Exxon, in which Exxon assigned Mamo exclusive rights to supply the stations with Exxon-branded gasoline. Station operators argue this prevents them from shopping around for cheaper prices, and means they have to pass along the higher cost to customers.
According to New England Service Station and Auto Repair Association (NESSARA) Newsbrief Fall 2009, Vol. 2, page 5, "ExxonMobil sold the outlets to Mamo to settle a race discrimination lawsuit with the Ethiopia-born jobber."
After the acquisition by CPG, several independent operators of Exxon Mobil stations in D.C. sued Exxon and Mamo, arguing they should have been given first-refusal rights to purchase their stations, according to Washington City Paper. "They say they have also offered to purchase the stations from CPG. But they say Mamo has rebuffed their overtures," reported the paper.
"West Springfield Car Care is a business that caters to people's needs," said Springfield resident Robert Layne as he waited for his car at the shop. "Brent and his crew have excellent knowledge and are so honest it makes people come here."
West Springfield Car Care employees nine people. Roberts fears what the loss of their jobs will mean for their families. "I hope Capitol Petroleum will at least honor our lease," said Roberts. "That would give us until 2017—ample time to keep our business going as we find another location."