Newman’s closing after 33 years

John Kubal/Register: After 33 years as owner and operator of Newman’s Convenience Store, on Sixth Street (U.S. Highway 14), Gary Newman is retiring with an on-site celebration for his customers Friday.

BROOKINGS – Newman’s Convenience Store. Newman’s Ampride. 

To its regular customers it’s simply Newman’s: a Brookings mainstay that has served motorists for more that three decades out of the same location on Sixth Street (U.S. Highway 14) is shutting down its gas pumps and closing its convenience store at the end of June. 

Owner Gary Newman, 68, is officially retiring.

To thank his customers – some who have been with him since he opened on May 18, 1987 – for their loyalty, he’ll be serving brats, hot dogs, the fixings and ice cream from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday.

Newman wants people to know that the coronavirus and the construction on Sixth Street have nothing to do with retirement.

“I’ve had this planned for years,” he pointed out. 

A key reason he cited for retirement is a need for some extended time off from 33 years of hard work: often seven days a week, sometimes 12 to 13 hours a day and often on holidays. He ran pretty much a one-man show, with part-time employees keeping things running when he wasn’t there.

Newman grew up in Toronto, where his father, Kermit Newman, operated a Standard service station in Toronto and also a bulk fuel truck service business.

“This was not new to him,” Gary’s son Jeff Newman said of his father buying what was then KerrmcGee’s in Brookings. “He grew up in the business.”

A Toronto native, Newman lived his whole life in the Brookings area with the exception of three years in the Army, one year of it at Da Nang, South Vietnam, where he served with a supply unit.

Following graduation from Deubrook High School in 1970, he was drafted nine months later. 

“I was one of the last ones to get drafted,” Newman said with a smile.

In 1973, President Richard Nixon ended the draft and the United States moved to the All-Volunteer Force.

When he left the Army, he and his brother, the late Craig “Doc” Newman, owned a bar in Toronto for two years; Gary spent nine years as a route driver for Schwann’s in Scotland before buying KerrmcGee’s.

Customer loyalty pays off

While Newman’s never changed its location, it has been remodeled over the years. New pumps and tanks were added. And computers came along in the new age of information.

“I’ve caught up with all that stuff (computers),” Newman said. “It’s definitely changed a lot since the day I came in.” 

At that time ethanol was also coming in as a fuel. It cost about 85 to 90 cents per gallon; now it’s about $2.10 a gallon.

For Newman the big draw and appeal of running his own business has always been the people. “I’ve met a lot of friends over the years, hundreds and hundreds, the students that came through here.” 

And they’ve kept coming back over the years, surprised that he was still in business.    

“They’ll remember his name, and he’ll remember theirs,” son Jeff added.

And while the gas pumps are the most visible symbols of Newman’s, Gary noted that “the inside stuff,” especially “tobacco and beer,” are probably the biggest moneymakers.

Customer loyalty has always been a high point for Newman. Despite the impeded paths to his store brought about by the major construction project, his regulars keep finding their way in. 

“They can’t go up and down the street, but they find their way,” he said.

Newman prides himself on operating a “full-service” station for all the 33 years that he’s been in business. If a customer needs assistance, such as someone who has a disability, he’s there.

In retirement, Newman will shift gears, travel, and he’ll be the customer coming in looking for gas and other convenient products at a service station.

“I’d like to travel and see more of the United States,” he explained. “I saw a lot of it when I was in the service but there’s still a lot more of it I’d like to see.” 

He saw a bit of the country while he was in the Army. In addition to his service in Vietnam, he was stationed stateside at Fort Lewis, Washington; Fort Lee, Virginia; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; and Fort Stewart, Georgia.

Newman has three grown children and two grandchildren. Plans for travel include a visit to a daughter, son-in-law, and grandson in Spring, Texas. He’d also like to see the East Coast.

As for the futhure of Newman’s?

“I’m hoping someone will come along and buy it,” he said. But after retirement, he’ll no longer be pumping gas.

Contact John Kubal at [email protected]

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