If you’re nostalgic for the “good ole’ days” of 1950s Lilburn, you’re going to be very disappointed with the next sentence.
Cole’s Service Station, one of the last local, old-timey, honest-to-goodness full-service family gasoline stations opened here in 1958 is closing for good at the end of 2020.
As he hauls out equipment from his station at 4955 Lawrenceville Highway NW (“a good location,” commented a customer on the web), owner Ray Cole said he’s had long-time customers visit him on the verge of tears asking him where in the world will they get the kind of automotive service that they’ve had from his station.
Cole doesn’t hesitate in coming up with his answer: after his station is shuttered, he recommends that his customers take their automotive needs to his good friend Eddie Price of Eddie’s Automotive Service in Lilburn.
Sixty-two years is a long time to be in one place, and Cole has seen the city of Lilburn grow from a small town to the larger community that it is today.
“It was a small town back then,” Cole said. “My brother, Curtis, opened the business first in 1958, and I joined him a few years later.” Ray said he is 10 years younger than Curtis. The station moved from its original location at 4925 Lawrenceville Highway to its present and final site in 1987.
“We started off changing oil, working on brakes, and we had a lot of loyal customers with us in the early years,” he said, adding that it wasn’t just a business, it was a location for friends to meet. “Meet me over at Cole’s” was heard often at the station.
In the early days, the station began pumping regular and premium gas, later installing diesel, Cole said, adding that he remembered regular being around 17.9 cents per gallon in that era.
The list of services offered by Cole’s was long: tire repair (rotate and balance), oil change, brake service, free diagnostics check, and local towing with any major repair service. Tire pressure and oil checks also were performed routinely.
Auto repair shop owner Price, whose business is located at 5440 Webb Parkway, said he first met Ray in the early 1980s, and they’ve been friends ever since. “I started my business in 1988, and Ray helped me get started, referring customers to me from that point on,” he said. “I began by buying gas from him.”
“It’s definitely the end of an era,” Price said. “He’s helped a lot of people over the years and I’m sad, but really happy for him.”
And Cole has had a dedicated employee, Keith (K.B.) Britt, who has been working for him for 39 and one-half years helping to perform those needed automobile repairs.
Cole said he had been thinking about closing and retiring for the last five years, and finally “the right buyer came along,” he said. Plans call for the new owner to remodel or rebuild some type of convenience store.
Wesley Segars said he had some great memories of Cole’s being more than just a service station.
“It was the neighborhood place to meet,” he said. “I fondly remember the people that I would see there…many who have passed or moved away: Mr. Corley, Mr. (W.R.) Burris, Jimmy Johnston, L.J. Hoopaugh or Mr. Ussery talking, laughing or drinking coffee. Walking in the door, I would hear several people say ‘hey’ or knowing me by name.” He said K.B. would always check to see if he needed anything.
“Most of all, Ray Cole would always ask how I was doing…and he would ask how my family was getting along. People like Ray and K.B. will always hold a special place in my heart!” he added.
Wesley said he could always rely on Ray Cole. One time, he ran out of gas on I-85 on a Saturday afternoon, trying to reach Cole’s to fill up. “I called Ray…he got K.B. to come to the phone so I could let him know my exact location. In very little time, here comes K.B. in the station truck with gas to get me going,” he said, adding that he also made sure the vehicle would start.
One day Wesley said he visited Cole’s, but had not gone by the bank, and was running short of cash. “Ray told me never to worry and that I could pay him when I got some cash,” he said.
Loyal customers gave some glowing comments on the Yahoo internet site about the station:
One patron, Nancy J. of Norcross, wrote in 2014 that Cole’s was a great “mom and pop” type gas station that did everything: pump gas, check fluids, and fill your tires. “They have a knowledgeable and friendly staff…. eager to help. I have NEVER found them to be less than perfect gentlemen here.” She said that Cole’s “will tell you the truth…do good work. I hope they will be there forever!”
Customers didn’t mind driving across Gwinnett County to do business at Cole’s. Lori C. of Grayson said in 2012 that she would drive out of her way to visit the station “for gas, oil changes and minor repairs. Ray Cole and his employees are the best and they know what they’re doing!”
Finally, another customer, Allison M. of Lilburn, said in 2016 that Cole’s provided her with great service in repairing her tires for very little money. She added that they “always show me exactly what the problem is…and never try to up-sale or tell me I need new tires. Just affordable, quality service!”