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Last of its kind gas station fading into history

If someone didn’t know better Friday while observing activities at Brannock’s Service Center, he or she might’ve thought it was 1965 — when motorists sat in their vehicles as an attendant pumped their gas and checked the oil.

But no, a peek at the calendar revealed it was in fact 2021. And the scene of a man — Marty Brannock — supplying such friendly customer service was indeed real and not a figment of imagination reminiscent of those long-gone good old days.

“I saw you out there cleaning the windshield and I thought, ‘people just don’t do that anymore,’” customer Zack Blackmon Jr. told Brannock minutes later as they stood inside the longtime business on West Lebanon Street across from Veterans Memorial Park.

Brannock could not think of another full-service gasoline station in Mount Airy which offers that service, saying the closest one he knew of is in Carroll County, Virginia — an alien concept to a generation raised on self-service only.

And as of Monday, this community no longer will boast that distinction, due to Brannock’s Service Center Inc. closing effective July 5, according to a letter sent to its customers.

“After 45 years at this location, retirement is at hand,” it states. “It has been our pleasure to have served you and the city of Mount Airy for so long.”

“I’m just ready to go,” Brannock, 66, said Friday of the retirement decision involving both him and his wife Donna. They have been married for nearly 46 years, and she has worked in the office at Brannock’s Service Center for about 23 of those. The late Buck Brannock, Marty’s father, founded the business.

Some vestige of the operation will live on after its service station component fades into history, however.

Though the building itself will be empty, a longtime Brannock’s employee, Jason Jarrell, and his wife Robin will be opening Brannock’s Alignment and Service Center in a shop next to the service station on July 19.

Also, the fuel pumps will still be in operation — but on a credit card-only basis 24/7, with no more friendly faces involved.

End of an era

That prospect had many customers expressing sadness Friday as they stopped by to express farewell to the Brannocks, which included more than a few hugs.

“I’m not going to cry,” said longtime customer Nancy Caruthers of Westfield, whose emotions along those lines were still apparent as she and Marty warmly embraced.

One quickly got the idea Friday that it is not just the service aspect itself which has been the appeal for Brannock’s Service Center, but the personal touches embodied by him.

“He’s wonderful to me,” Caruthers said of Marty Brannock while mentioning that she has been patronizing the business since 1998.

“You’ve got so many people that depend on you,” Blackmon told Brannock.

They include Deborah Cochran, a former mayor of Mount Airy and longtime radio personality who lives near the station.

“My cars are over 20 years old, and they have serviced my cars for decades,” Cochran advised regarding the crew at Brannock’s, praising “Marty’s positive attitude” along with the full treatment at the pumps.

“Everything from inspections, batteries, tires, brakes and gas — they even come to the house and pick up the cars,” Cochran added. “There is no telling how many people they have kept on the road, and I travel to Winston-Salem ten months out of the year.”

Brannock said he has relied on a simple philosophy in his interactions with customers. “I’ve always tried to give people the best advice and the best bang for their buck,” he said of dealing with various automotive issues.

It’s a formula that has proven to be a success among folks from near and far.

“We all love him,” Blackmon said of Brannock.

By the same token, customers don’t want to see him go.

“It seems like everything is changing these days,” Cochran said. “When Marty and Donna told me they were retiring, I was in shock.”

“I’ve paid my dues”

Many transitions have occurred in the business world over the years and in speaking with Marty Brannock, one gets the impression that at some point people desire to escape the related pressures and simply enjoy life to the fullest.

The longtime station operator referred to his father in explaining this.

“He was my buffer,” Brannock said, who could run things whenever the son wanted to take a trip to the beach or attend a motorcycle rally.

“But when Dad passed away 15 years ago, I carried the load — but I’ve enjoyed it,” he said.

“I’ve paid my dues and enjoyed all I’ve done.” Brannock says he’s ready for a new “adventure.”

David Beal, another former city official — whose has served as both a commissioner and police chief in Mount Airy, in addition to Surry County clerk of court — offered an optimistic view about the situation Friday when stopping by for gas.

“First of all, I think that the history of the Brannock family in the gas station industry is one that is exceptional,” Beal said.

He seemed to take comfort in the fact that there will at least be some semblance of the business remaining due to the shop next door which will operate under the Brannock name.

This will allow the presence of the couple to be intact at the site on West Lebanon Street — at least symbolically, Beal believes.

“As far as I’m concerned, Donna and Marty will still be here.”

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