On top of the hill in Darlington, sits a gas station. Overlooking the canopy and pumps are the Golden Arches—their looming presence distinguishes this gas station from the other two in Darlington. If you come here strictly for a hamburger flavored with 1,000 Island Dressing, however, you’ll be missing out on something else that sets this gas station apart: its personality.
In an era commonly described as rushed it’s almost startling to encounter the engagement and humor crackling beneath even the quickest transactions that take place here. Darlington Mini-Mart is supposed to be a convenience store, a gas station, a grab-and-go kind of place, but it’s also so much more.
“I come here every day,” said Katie, a loyal customer. “I won’t even wait for my gas tank to run low. I just like to come in and say hi.”
Another regular performs a ritualistic dance when purchasing lottery tickets. Though she wished to remain anonymous she prefers taking her business to the Mini-Mart: “I won’t stop anywhere else.”
Sure the charm is evident, but never so much as on Pump Day.
“It’s like a throwback to the past,” Deidre Stiefel, the manager of the store, says. “It’s a day when we come out and wash your windows, fill your tank, and strike up a conversation.” She, along with longtime standby and customer favorite Karen Bode conceived of the idea in April as a way to attract new customers. Though it hasn’t done much of that yet it has “helped build relationships,” in the words of Bode.
Then again, that’s always been just another offering at the Mini-Mart, alongside New Glarus beer and local meat offerings from Avon Locker. Here, the relationship between business and consumer feels natural, fun and easy—chemistry heightened by an event such as Pump Day. Though it is winding down to a close for the year (Sept. 30 is the final day) the hope is that it will continue to grow in due time.
“It’s really nice for senior citizens or people with impairments to not have to get out of the car to fill up,” Nicole Burke, assistant manager, said. “We want them to know we care about their experience, we want to make things easier.”
Seniors do enjoy the perks. “I tell all of my friends about it,” a friend of the business explained. “They want to go here or there, and I tell them ‘No, go up the hill, they’ll pump your gas for you!’”
Judy Boll, who’s allergic to latex, also makes a weekly stop for Pump Day. Otherwise when pumping gas herself, she has to use a pair of gloves.
“I love it. It’s great that they do this. It’s good for the community,” said Boll with a grin.
Hearing the banter, the interactivity, the simple understated joy of talking to other people about something other than their order or their money really highlights the benefits of this event.
For the time being the event is weekly, and it’s nothing special, according to Stiefel.
“We don’t take tips,” she says, “It’s nothing like that. Think of it as us tipping you for stopping in.”
So if you can’t make it in by the end of the month, be sure to stop by next summer, if only to enjoy the show. Until then Bode, Burke, Siefel and the rest of Mini-Mart staff will carry on with the same mission and goal in mind. The mission: to make Pump Day a staple of summertime in Darlington. The goal: to keep the spirit of Pump Day going year round.