November 12, 2014 Edition

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Robert (right) and Fern Shelton are closing Robert's Service Center in Portia after 36 years in business. The full-service station is the last of its kind in Lawrence County. Rob Shelton (left), their son has helped to organize a drop-in reception Friday from 3:30-5:30 p.m. to celebrate the history of the service center.
TD Photo ~ Megan Heyl

Robert's Service Center
to close after 36 years

Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

Robert's Service Center has served the communities of Portia, Black Rock and the surrounding areas for 36 years, and owners Robert and Fern Shelton have said it's time to close the last full-service station in Lawrence County.

The business, inherited from Robert's brother, Hulen Shelton, who died in a car accident, was opened under the name Robert's Esso in Black Rock in 1978. It was the spring of 1982 when the Sheltons moved the station to its current location in Portia.

Robert has been working in service stations all his life. Hesaid he knew from a young age it was going to be hard work to make enough to provide for his family from running a service station. But their commitment to the business and their customers allowed them to not only make a living but also provide a second home to many in the community.

"They just made you feel at home and welcome, and they were always in a good mood," said Gena Ingle, a regular customer at the service station. "They'd help you anytime they could with anything. You can always count on them."

The homey atmosphere and charm was felt by many who visited the station over the years. From the wall of rusted and aged tools Robert collects and proudly displays at the front of the station, to the 14-year-old cat named peanut who sits behind the counter and is affectionately known as the boss to the ice-cold Classic Coca-Colas in glass bottles they still serve, there are many things that will be missed as the station closes.

Long-time friend Joe Penn said the station is one of the last of its kind and it has been hard over the years to see these stations continue to shut down in the community.

"These full-service stations are great for the locals, especially those who can't do those things themselves. The Sheltons were there to help people," Penn said. He said that the amount of time and courtesy they took with everybody who came to the center is something that isn't seen anymore and he expressed his gratitude to them for providing that service for so many years.

Tim Doyle with Doyle Bros. Farming said, "Having someone reliable who worked with us for so many years has been great for business. They know all our employees and how our business works and they are just good people."

Both Robert and Fern wanted to express their gratitude to their customers. "We've had some of the most loyal customers. Some have been with us all 36 years," Robert said.

HydroGuard Foundations is one of those that has done business with the center since it opened, and David Clark said they would have continued to do business with the Sheltons. "They're just good, honest, reliable, Christian people. You don't find people like them very often."

The Sheltons said that they didn't want anybody to be concerned about them and they are both in good health and plan to continue to work.

"We're just ready to move on to something new," Fern said. The two will continue to run R & F Trailer where they sell trailers and mini storage buildings, They have no plans to sell the service center in the foreseeable future.

Thinking back to when he first took over his brother's business, Robert recalled being hesitant. "I was going to work there two years, and, 36 years later, those two years are about up," he said.

A drop-in reception will be held at Robert's Service Center Friday from 3:30-5:30 p.m. to celebrate the Sheltons and their 36 years running the service center. Everyone is welcome.

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