FRENCHVILLE, Maine — When the only gas station in the small northern Maine border town of Frenchville closes its doors at the end of the month, the impact will be felt by so many more than people seeking to fill the gas tanks of their vehicles and snowmobiles.
Paul’s Gas Inc. on U.S. Route 1 serves not only as a gas station, convenience store and car wash, but also as a meeting place for retired locals to chat over coffee and grab some lunch together.
It also sells propane and kerosene to tourists visiting the area and homeowners who find themselves in a pinch during cold winter months.
But the business is closing on Sept. 30 because the underground fuel tanks need to be replaced and owner Ricky Daigle cannot afford it, according to a letter he posted on social media this week. It will leave a hole in Frenchville that will be felt miles around.
The average cost to replace an existing tank is $250,000, including the tank, piping and associated equipment, according to Comm Tank, which provides replacement services in New England.
Underground gas storage tanks have a lifespan of about 30 years, and are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
About 15 retired community members socialize at Paul’s daily, according to store clerk Louise Paradis, who has worked at the business since it first opened 37 years ago. She can tell you the names of all of her regular customers and what they purchase.
“I know pretty much everyone who walks in here,” Paradis said.
Among them is Paul Gagnon, the original owner of Paul’s. He sold the business in 1997 to his brother-in-law Paul Bernier, who owned it until Daigle purchased it 20 years ago.
“There was nothing here; I built it from scratch,” Gagnon said, when he stopped by Paul’s for a visit on Thursday.
Gagnon said he understands why Daigle decided to close Paul’s, especially with all of the rules and regulations fuel businesses have to follow now.
“It’s too bad but I sure understand his point; he’ll never make it,” he said.
Resident Reno Pelletier said he has been visiting Paul’s since it first opened.
“Oh yes, I’m old,” he said. “I come here for a coffee and to talk bull with the guys.”
Regular customer Bert Albert said he was not sure where the guys will hang out once Paul’s closes.
“It’s the only place in town,” Albert said. “I come for my milk and doughnut in the morning. I don’t drink coffee but I come here every morning.”
Daigle put Paul’s on the market last year for $119,000, but a property that needs fuel tanks replaced could be difficult to sell.
“That’s the big hiccup right there. It’s a big expense to pull that out,” Paradis said.
Paradis said she has loved working at Paul’s for the past four decades, and will especially miss her customers.
“Oh my God, I can’t believe it’s closing,” she said.