Esko's last locally owned gas station will be closing Friday, Sept. 20.
After trying to sell the store for over a year with no success, Esko Self Serve owners Dennis and Julie Day decided to close the locally owned family business. Residents often refer to the store as "the Esko Spur."
The only remaining gas station in Esko, the Minit Mart, is not locally owned. The gas pumps were removed years ago from Esko's other former longtime locally owned gas station, Wirtz 66.
Esko Self Serve manager Beth Belden, daughter of the owners, said the store has struggled with the influx of several new convenience stores in the Cloquet area in the last few years.
The little store on the corner of Minnesota Highway 61 and Canosia Road, kitty-corner from Esko Schools, has been hiring Esko students as cashiers for almost 50 years. Belden began working as a high school student in 1984, two years after her parents bought it.
The Days moved to Esko in the mid-1960s. Bill O’Brien purchased the building in 1976. The Days managed the store while working other jobs.
“We wanted to make sure it would work,” Dennis said with a chuckle. After five years of managing, they decided to make it theirs.
They also bought a convenience store in Carlton. They sold it about 15 years ago.
The Esko Self Serve provided job opportunities to hundreds of Esko High School students over the years as well as the Day children.
Patrick, Beth and Mark all worked at both stores at some point, as did their six children.
Beth left the store in 1990 and returned to manage it in 2001.
“I’m sad for the town,” Beth said.
O'Brien expanded the small footprint of the original building. The Days added the convenience section and then a country-style gift selection.
While the family has many fond memories over the nearly half-century they owned the store, there were also a few problems sprinkled.
They had about 10 break-ins over the years.
“Mostly kids,” Beth said. Although one morning in the early 1990s, they came into work and discovered a determined thief had drilled a hole into their safe. Dennis found the stack of checks left behind in the store, but the thief stole just under $1,000.
There was also a contamination issue in the late 1980s. They became familiar with the Environmental Protection Agency as they worked to fix the issue.
For the majority of the years, the store was open 365 days a year.
“We opened no matter the weather,” Beth said.
Her father added that at times there was too much snow to drive to the store, so they skied into town to open it.
The father and daughter paused a moment as they remembered. Beth sat behind the counter as she has hundreds of times. Dennis stood in front of the counter and leaned on it as they shared memories.
As customers stopped in, they chatted a bit and asked when the store would be closing. Beth knew them by name.
“It was our social life,” Dennis said.
Beth will continue running the concession stand during sporting events at the high school.
“I’ll have to look for another part-time job,” Beth said.
Her parents have been wintering in Florida for about 15 years. After the store closes Friday, they will pull out the gas pumps and tanks and hope that brings a fast sale for the familiar building on the corner.
“Thank you for so many good years,” Dennis said.