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Brothers buy gas station from Shell
David and Marty Ulrich Jr. have run the Shell station on Sunset Highway for more than 20 years. They ran it when it was a Texaco, from 1991 to 1998, and when it was a Shell station before that. In total, the auto repair and gas station has been serving Island residents and visitors since 1965 when Marty Ulrich Sr., the brothers’ father, began the venture.
Earlier this spring, the Ulrich brothers almost lost the family business. Shell had put the half-acre property up for sale with a property value of $2.1. million. But in June, the Ulrich brothers bought the station back at a price only justified by their desire to keep the family business alive.
“We’re paying $3.17 million when the property is valued at $2.1 million. We had to pay for it or be out of work after 23 years. You’re looking at starting another career. Plus, we have our customers. The Island can’t afford to lose another station,” David Ulrich said.
There are currently four gas stations on Mercer Island: three Shell stations on the North end and a Chevron station on the South end.
In late April, Shell informed the Ulrichs that it had accepted a “deed restriction” offer — which means that the station would have been torn down and developed — of $3.1 million, plus closing costs, from Island business owner James Cassan of Dollar Leasing and Development. As leasees of the property, which includes a 1,500-square-foot building, the brothers had first right of refusal. They were given 45 days to match the $3.1 million. They met the match with an offer of $3.17 million in June.
“Once we matched this offer, Shell abolished our lease. The lease ends on Jan. 30, 2010, but we’re hoping they let us out earlier,” David Ulrich said.
Once 2010 begins, David Ulrich and his brother expect to be working under the Chevron logo. Plans to switch to a Chevron station, which will include adding an Extra Mile mini-mart, are already in the go.
“No matter what, we’ll be a Chevron. Shell wanted to give us money to stay with them, but only offered us one-quarter of what Chevron offered,” David Ulrich said.
The brothers have already spoken with Steve Lancaster, Mercer Island Development Services director, about the necessary permits required to build a mini-mart, along with city stipulations about signage and other design concerns.
Lancaster said that, although the Ulrichs have not yet submitted a formal application for the city’s Planning Commission to review, they have spoken to him about plans to become Chevron.
“The only thing I’m aware of is that they’ve inquired about signage,” Lancaster said. “We just told them what the city will allow. Everything’s still preliminary.”
Along with building a mini-mart, David and Marty Ulrich Jr. are planning to install a generator and become the Island’s official emergency service fuel station for the city. As such, the station will be able to supply gas to city emergency vehicles if a disaster — such as the December wind storm of 2006, which cut off power on the Island for days — strikes the Island again. The idea has been discussed with City Emergency Preparedness Officer Jennifer Franklin.
“We’ve been working with them on this for at least a year. We already have a generator ready and prepared to go. Basically, we’ve been waiting for them to acquire the station and get the wiring ready,” the officer said.
Franklin specified that the emergency fuel station is not intended to serve Island residents, but only city emergency-response vehicles.
“It will become the fuel source specifically for emergency vehicles — private search and rescue vehicles, for example. The agreement is for a disaster scene. When all else fails, we’ll have fuel,” she said.
Currently, the City of Mercer Island obtains its fuel — whether during an emergency or otherwise — from four stations; one at City Hall, the School District’s bus barn, and the North-end Fire Department.
David Ulrich said that he and his brother are excited about the changes to come. In the near future, Islanders won’t have to worry about losing the decades-old station at the corner of Sunset Highway and 77th Avenue S.E., he said. Yet the current economy has taught the Islander that he cannot be 100 percent sure of anything in the long-term.
“We’re very happy to be here. But in five or 10 years, who knows, this place could be torn down and developed,” he said.