SB Collins re-opens iconic gas station

New station seeks to preserve Clarence Brown’s history

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By Geran Miter

Messenger Contributor

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ST. ALBANS – A small crowd gathered on Federal Street on Friday morning to commemorate the re-opening of the Clarence Brown gas station. The station has undergone extensive renovations since 2014, including a full replacement of the building.

The new building is modeled after the original, reproduced through existing images of how the building looked when added in 1932. In its 87th year of operation, the business is the oldest continuously operating gas station in Vermont.

The building’s interior office is small and homey, decorated with paintings and illustrations of the original building throughout its history. A vintage Flying A Gas sign hangs over the sole desk and cash register, and across the wall is a photo of Jackie Brown, widow of Clarence’s son Greg, and her brother-in-law Gary Brown, who co-owned the company when they made the decision to sell it to SB Collins in 2011.

Jackie and Gary were very clear that they wanted the company to go to another family-owned business, to maintain Clarence Brown, Inc.’s focus on friendly, local service. Clarence himself was known for being outgoing and friendly, keeping a stock of apples on hand for customers—as well as biscuits for their dogs. Employees proudly continued these traditions for decades.

Clarence began selling gas out of cans to cars in 1929, acquiring the Federal Street building three years later. He eventually added an oil delivery service and a scrap metal dealership to his business. Greg, who passed away in 2007, purchased the former Paquin auto dealership, adding the Breakyard gas station and convenience store on Federal Street to the company.

Preserving the authenticity of the site was important, according to SB Collins Vice President Mary Ellen Jolley. Clarence Brown is a unique business—along with being one of St. Albans’ oldest family-owned institutions, it is the only gas station in the city where attendants pump gas for customers. Maintaining the company’s familiar image has been a priority for SB Collins, who kept the Clarence Brown name, iconic yellow trucks, and uniforms.

“We’re thrilled to have participated in this project,” Michael Connor, President of Connor Contracting, told the Messenger. “We appreciate Jolley Associates’ commitment to restoring Federal Street and recreating and restoring historic buildings like this.”

SB Collins General Manager Steve Smith oversaw the renovation project from start to finish, though it hit snags in May 2014 due to city zoning regulations requiring all gas pumps to be placed behind buildings and landscaping, which did not fit the site’s character. The project, as proposed by Ruggiano Engineering, was eventually approved by the St. Albans City Development Review Board.

Attendees of the opening included Smith, Connor, and Mary Ellen Jolley, as well as SB Collins president Bruce Jolley and Ruggiano Engineering President Sam Ruggiano. Several loyal customers and friends of those who made the project possible braved the rain to celebrate and snap photographs.

To promote the re-opening, the station is holding a Grand Opening Raffle, to be drawn on September 6. The grand prize is a $500 gift card to Clarence Brown.