BUSINESS PROFILE

Gator Garage is a one-stop shop

It is one of the few stations around to still sell gas, repair cars


Phil Theoktisto operates Gator Garage, a gas station and repair shop, at Northwest Sixth Street and 16th Avenue in Gainesville.

Doug Finger/Staff
Published: Sunday, April 14, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 12, 2013 at 3:59 p.m.

There are not a lot of service stations like Gator Garage still around.

Facts

Phil Theoktisto

Age: 65
Occupation: Owner, Gator Garage
Personal: Married to Karen for 27 years; three daughters, Anna, Katie and Tina
Pets: Large lab mix named Bruno, two cats
Dream partner for lunch: "Any of my family."
Last books read: The Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
Favorite TV: SEC football
Playing in his car: Little Mike and the Tornadoes' CD
Hobbies: Boating, racing cars, home repair
Education: Gainesville High, Miami-Dade and Santa Fe College

The gas station and repair shop at Northwest Sixth Street and 16th Avenue still has different pumps for regular, super and plus gas.

Owner Phil Theoktisto had the single-service pumps installed in 1989, and "after that they quit making those things."

Although he phased out full service in the 1990s, he still pumps gas for "old lady customers" who have been coming in for years and for people who can't get out of their cars.

Theoktisto, 65, has been in business 40 years. He figures he has one of the last few stations in town that still sell gas and repair cars, along with City Line Marathon on Newberry Road and Pete's Chevron on South Main Street.

"Business has changed," he said from behind the counter of a small store cramped with racks of potato chips and refrigerated drink coolers. "Cars used to break down a lot more. They're built better now. And there's all these places that do nothing but fix cars. The business has kind of gotten away from the service stations."

He started adding snacks and drinks in the early and mid-1990s in response to customer demand.

"Before that, we just had a Coke machine outside."

Mechanic Eric Millsaps, 23, pops into the doorway to the garage with a brake rotor for a 2004 Honda Accord to ask how to get a screw unstuck.

Three more cars were waiting for repairs, which means the business will be busy all day, Theoktisto said.

Two or three people work at the shop. Theoktisto said he wasn't sure since someone didn't show up for work the night before.

Gulf Oil built the station in 1957. Before that, Theoktisto remembers seeing a home there when he would walk to Sidney Lanier school.

He was working for Ira's Gulf station on the site of what is now the Trophy Shop on Northwest 13th Street when he had an opportunity to lease the Gulf station on Sixth. It became Phil's Gulf on March 27, 1973. He returned from dealer school just in time for the Arab oil embargo, when cars were lined up for gas and he was allocated only enough fuel to be able to sell every other day.

The station became Phil's BP in 1989 after BP merged with Gulf. He bought the station in the mid-1990s and got out of his contract with BP in 2006 to go independent, changing the name to Gator Garage. He painted the pumps orange and blue — a nod to the Gators as well as a return to the Gulf colors. The store is decorated with Gators banners, posters, footballs, ticket stubs and a 3-foot alligator statue.

A new customer asks about the brand and quality of the gas, and Theoktisto tells him about Marathon Oil.

Mike Hetrick, 45, pulls up in his 1972 Datsun pickup — "the original mini truck."

Hetrick said he has been a regular customer for more than 10 years.

"I love old Phil here," he said. "It's your friendly neighborhood filling station. Independently owned. Treats you fair."

After 40 years, Theoktisto said he's willing to sell the business, or just the real estate, but figures it'll take four years before the economy rebounds enough to find a buyer.

"If somebody'd buy it, I'd leave tomorrow."

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