Demise of station won't be lamented

"You can charge a bulldozer through a wetland, but you can't clear a path to a community's heart so easily.So might read one epitaph for the failed Arco station on High School Road, two years to the month after operators first turned on the pumps. Not that the company didn't get off on the wrong foot back in August 1990, when contractors in the company's employ roared into a wetland area, earning a stop-work order (and considerable local ire) for unauthorized clearing and grading. There ensued a seven-year battle over the station's construction - a process that veered into farce, with endless hearings, appeals, and appeals of appeals between the company and local environmental interests and centering around the station's proximity to purportedly sensitive areas.After that process exhausted itself in the company's favor, the station went up and the pumps were turned on in January 1999; but just over a year later, the station was apparently up for sale. And two weeks ago, the islands were cordoned off, and signs announced that the station would become the province a Bainbridge-based independent operator, flying under the flag of Texaco.Surprised? Not really.Despite the promise of a gasoline price war, the signs of the Arco station's demise looked apparent early on. Across the street at the popular Village Chevron - which has set a high standard for community involvement as a home for youth car washes - motorists were often queued up nearly to the street. At Arco, you could see tumbleweeds blowing across the parking lot, but that was about it.The easy lesson would be that obstructionism works, and that islanders carried a grudge against a fine but hapless company that just wanted to do business in our midst. We suspect the company would also blame such factors as a lack of visibility - the station wound up being screened from the highway by that most ubiquitous of local permit conditions, the vegetated buffer - and perhaps general Bainbridge uppitiness.But with island growth and turnover over the last decade, we suspect a high percentage of today's residents weren't even here for the early permit battles. And the station's history certainly would have no bearing on the preferences of the cross-island highway traffic obviously coveted by Arco when it purchased the property in the 1980s.We suspect the station's failure had more to do with the station's business practices, which many found off-putting: Restrictions on checks and credit cards, and a pointless pre-pay system under which motorists had to make two trips inside to the counter if they wanted to fill their tank. It was awkward and time-consuming and, frankly, silly.Free-market acolytes always insist that if consumers don't like a product or service, they can vote with their wallet.Islanders did, and Arco is slinking off to other markets.We trust the owners of the new operation can set a better standard. Welcome to them. "

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