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End of an era: Thrifty Oil to close full-service station that has served Thomasville area for nearly 80 years
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End of an era: Thrifty Oil to close full-service station that has served Thomasville area for nearly 80 years

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THOMASVILLE — When Larry Crouse retires June 25, Thrifty Oil will close after nearly 80 years as a full-service station that generations of residents relied on in the Thomasville area.

Crouse, 72, who became known through the years for his honesty and humor, described his decision to retire as bittersweet.

Some of his earliest memories revolve around the station and garage his father, Jack Crouse, owned and operated at 1 National Highway starting in 1942. Jack’s brother, Buck, and their father, Melvin, did major mechanical work in a shop next door. The business was named National Motor Co. until Jack combined the two companies into Thrifty Oil. At one time the business had six employees, operated seven days a week and offered extras like selling tires and washing cars.

“We would go out and wash windshields, check the oil, pump the gas and gauge the tires,” Crouse said. “There wasn’t anything like self-service back then. It was all full-service.”

Thrifty Oil added a self-service pump about 15 years ago but kept its full-service pump, where it continues to provide full service when a customer requests it. Some longtime customers are now elderly or disabled, he said.

“I still have a lot of older ladies who say, ‘Don’t you ever close,’ “ Crouse said. “That’s one reason it has taken me so long to make this decision. I’ve been mulling that over in my mind. I’ve been praying for it, and I’ve had my friends and people in my church praying for me to make the decision about what to do. I woke up one morning week before last and said, ‘It’s time.’ The Realtor I had been talking to, not really seriously, showed up that same day. So I just feel like the Lord sent her up here.”

Crouse began working in the shop as a teenager to help his father after school and on Saturdays. He worked there during summer breaks while attending Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia for three years. While Crouse was a student at Winthrop Junior College and Greensboro College, Crouse’s father wanted him to return home to work every Friday night and weekend.

“He always believed in the work ethic and it made me a better person by doing that,” Crouse said.

After college, Crouse joined his father working at Thrifty Oil around 1971. When his father died 37 years ago, Crouse remembers praying about taking over the station’s business and legal concerns. Crouse credits the Lord for helping with those tasks.

“At one time, we had a lot of textile mills, furniture factories, veneer mills and a lot of big companies that traded with us,” Crouse said. “When the furniture industry started going overseas, we lost a lot of our manufacturing companies.”

When Thomasville Furniture Industries was thriving, many of its employees would charge on in-house tickets or had charge accounts at Thrifty Oil, Crouse said.

“On Fridays, it wasn’t unusual for us to cash 30 to 35 TFI paychecks for people coming in paying bills,” Crouse said. “It’s just slowly declined over the years, but we’ve made it OK. There have been some times when cash has been thin.”

Crouse recalled working with a lot of good employees at Thrifty Oil through the years, including Harold Everhart, who started the day Jack opened it and remained on staff for more than 40 years. The staff dwindled down to two recently.

Ben Wagner, 30, has worked alongside Crouse for the past three years. Wagner said he is deciding whether he wants to stay in the automotive industry or do something different.

Wagner’s father also had operated a full-service shop that switched to self-service.

“My father told me throughout the years that Larry’s a good person to work for, and now that I’ve come along I see it for myself every day,” Wagner said. “Working for Larry has been great. He’s done his best to teach me a few things.”

Crouse said Wagner taught him a lot, too.

“I’m just old and can’t remember a lot of times,” Crouse quipped.

“I’ve got to refresh his memory,” Wagner said.

Between the two of them, Crouse and Wagner have witnessed radical changes as automobile manufacturers updated features like electrical and emission controls.

“Everything now is so technical,” Crouse said. “It’s hard sometimes to work on them. A lot of things on cars now are made so you’ll take them back to dealerships. It’s difficult to do a lot of the major repairs.”

The two joked they may have to conduct a training session for longtime customers who have never pumped gas on their own. Some customers who struggle to get out of the car may have a hard time finding another full-service station.

Crouse has three grown sons but knows they love their jobs. Crouse’s eldest son works with the state Highway Patrol, and his twin sons serve with the High Point Police Department.

“All three of my sons have worked for me, and they’re all hard workers,” Crouse said. “They all helped me any time I asked them to when they were young. I’m glad they’re as compassionate as they are.”

Generations of several families traded with Crouse and his father over the years.

Susan Jones McCurry reacted in dismay when she heard Crouse plans to close Thrifty Oil, and she recalled many ways the full-service station had helped her late parents and herself through the years.

“Larry and all who have worked at Thrifty Oil have always spoiled me ever since I got my license in 1973. I’m going to miss them so much,” McCurry said.

Crouse said he considers most of his customers to be family.

“I kid and cut up with them. I’m close to all of them and love each and every one of them. That’s another reason I hate to close,” he said.

After retirement, Crouse said, he wants to travel with his wife, Ginger. He also has already had a job offer.

“I tell everybody I’m going to do whatever I want to do,” Crouse said. “After several months, I’ll get bored. I’ll be wanting to do something, not all the time but maybe a couple days a week. I just want to enjoy being able to say I don’t have to wake up at 4:30 every morning and if I don’t feel good I don’t have to come to work. If it’s extremely cold I don’t have to get out, I can stay home. I’ve never been able to do that.

“I’m going to terribly miss all of my customers,” Crouse said. “It’s just been a hard decision for me to make, but I’m going to enjoy it I think.”

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