Were gas stations open at night in the early 1970s?
February 13, 2020 8:26 AM   Subscribe

I'm asking specifically about 1970/71 before the oil crisis and the advent of self-service. Pretty sure the station near our house closed up at night. But I'm assuming others stayed open late in various parts of town? And by late, I mean 9 or 10. Any firsthand recollections?
posted by swheatie to Society & Culture (13 answers total)
Yes , they were, at least in my midwestern city. I remember my mother saying she didn't understand how you could let someone you loved work in a gas station at night (because of robberies).
posted by FencingGal at 8:39 AM on February 13 [2 favorites]

Not that I know of. They weren't open on Sundays, either. (Cambridge/Boston, MA.) If making a long trip on the highway, you made sure to get off and get gas before evening.

The book "Deenie" by Judy Blume was written in 1973. Her father closes up his gas station and comes home for dinner every night (Elizabeth, NJ). This was completely normal to me.

There are now one or two that aren't open at night due to local laws and/or the independent owner just not being into it (Belmont and Cambridge), and they look very weird now.
posted by Melismata at 8:49 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]

I recall stopping at gas stations in the dark of night in the early 70's. We took trips that included driving overnight, and stopped for gas. Most of these were highway stops, though. I remember that in towns you would look for the beacon of a lit-up gas station after midnight.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 8:59 AM on February 13 [2 favorites]

I grew up in a small redneck suburb of Detroit and gas station hours varied. Some kept open until around 6:30 or 7 to accommodate workers going home. Some were open much later and some, I think, all night. I remember my parents sending me to the Clark gas station 1/3 mile down our road to buy cigarettes at 10 pm or so. (I was ten or eleven and at that time there was no problem buying smokes for the folks.) However, I lived on US-12, the major Detroit-Chicago connection until I-94 was completed. It was called Michigan Ave where I lived and the same in Chicago, 250+ miles away. (My address was 33445!) So maybe there were truckers and salesmen who were traveling late and needed gas, making the extra hours worthwhile.
posted by tmdonahue at 9:02 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]

In my small, suburban town in Marin County, my brother, who had just turned 16 and gotten his license, was tasked with driving to the neighborhood gas station in the wee hours of the morning on the (odd/even) day that we could fill up and sleeping in line in the car until the station opened at 7am or so. There were lots of other folks in line and also, small suburban town, so no worries for his safety.
posted by agatha_magatha at 9:25 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]

My father worked station in Brea, CA in the early 70's, and he remembers working until 9pm-ish. He says they'd set their hours based on if it was financially worth it to pay a "poor sucker" (his words, lol) $1.35/hr to man the pumps, and 9PM was about as late as they could go. Brea only has 12k people at the time, so perhaps the bustling metropoles down the road (Anaheim, Santa Ana, Tustin) had stations open later.

Fun fact about working a Brea, CA gas station: People would stop by all the time asking for directions to "the tarpits". My father would explain that the "La Brea Tarpits" were actually 40 miles away in Los Angeles, on about the corner of Fairfax and Wilshire. My dad's co-worker/best-friend would tell them that they need to go down Imperial and make right on Brea Blvd or whatever, and you'll see it on your right.
posted by sideshow at 9:49 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]

Some gas stations were open past 7PM in the early 70's, but any others open late were on the outskirts of town, and designated "truck stops" - anecdata from Denver.
posted by dbmcd at 10:25 AM on February 13

I vividly remember surveilling a Standard station with binoculars in the late evening in the mid-60s, at my friend's house in a Chicago suburb. If I understand your question, this would indicate that they were also open in the late evening in 1970-71, before the oil crisis and the advent of self-service.
posted by JimN2TAW at 10:33 AM on February 13

Thanks, folks. I'm concerned specifically with Oakland, CA, which is pretty populous and so I would imagine would lean toward yes on the matter.
posted by swheatie at 10:35 AM on February 13

My recollection from my early 70s childhood is that "neighborhood" gas stations were absolutely not open late, whether in cities or suburbs, but there would be something open on the outskirts -- either an actual truck stop or just a gas station situated closer to a highway. If there were numerous gas stations to serve highway traffic, generally only one of them was open late.
posted by desuetude at 1:06 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]

My late 60s-early 70s suburban recollection is that name-brand stations like Esso and Texaco kept more regular hours where service was the main business, doing regular maintenance and fixing stuff (cars back then required a lot more of that). When the garage closed around dinner-time, everything shut down. But you could still get gas later, at the no-name places which had pumps only (and slightly cheaper prices). They probably stayed open to around 10 PM, maybe later on weekends.
posted by Rash at 2:53 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]

In my sizable western hometown (that is, sizable for the western states), most name-brand stations closed early and weren't open on Sunday. However, there were two late night options in town.

One was an independent open until midnight six nights a week. In those pre-ATM days, they got a lot of my business because, in addition to cheaper gas, they also offered check-cashing privileges if you signed up for their store credit card. I'd get off work at 11:30 and beat it there to get cash for the next few days.

The other was an early pay-at-the-pump independent. The pumps took $1 tokens purchased at the cashier's window; if you pre-purchased, you could self-pump 24x7. I know I often got nearly three gallons for one token while I was in high school, and I graduated in '71. Once gas prices started to skyrocket, that station and their customers found the token system too cumbersome and they went out of business.
posted by peakcomm at 3:33 PM on February 13

I know there was a gas station in Manchester, CT open 24/7 in 1971. (Omitted: Saga of long trek in the snow due to running out of gas.)
posted by SemiSalt at 9:00 AM on February 14

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