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Stalwart Davis Islands station prepares to close

This story ran in some editions of the St. Petersburg Times.

As of Nov. 12 at 9 a.m., George's Island Amoco officially ran out of gas.

But customers were still pouring in last week to say goodbye.

"I can't believe it, George," says a woman in a Lexus. "Let me know if there is anything I can do."

A pony-tailed man on a Kawasaki says: "What's all this about you leaving, George? Is it bull---- . . . or is this the truth?"

"It's true," says George DeLeary, a burly man with silver hair and beard. "I have to go."

After 23 years running George's Island Amoco on East Davis Boulevard, owner DeLeary is leaving at the request of the landlord, Vince Palori.

"Everyone's trying to make me out to be the bad guy, but it's not me," said Palori, who has several lots on Davis Islands and grew up there.

Palori leases the property at 202 E Davis Blvd. to Radiant Oil Co., which subleases to DeLeary. Radiant is pulling out _ taking pumps and tanks _ so DeLeary has to go, Palori said.

DeLeary was given 30 days' notice. He asked for an extension and got another 15. That was two months ago. He asked for another extension, and he now has until Monday.

"Everybody's been trying to accommodate George and finally said, "Enough is enough,' " Palori said.

Rumor has it that an office building will rise in the station's place. Palori says the future use hasn't been decided. The spot is "for rent," he said.

George's Island Amoco isn't the kind of gas station that has pumps with built-in credit card machines.

DeLeary comes out in a blue shirt, name embroidered at the pocket, checks the oil and washes the windshield. "Super weather we are having," he remarks.

He tells jokes _ sometimes the same ones.

"I found a toe by the fence the other day," he tells a customer.

"I called a toe truck."

The station has a dog: Doogie, a yellow lab.

Record keeping consists of a white board in a cluttered office where customers write their names and phone numbers with a black marker. Somehow, DeLeary remembers what ails each car.

Thirty years ago, DeLeary relocated to sunny Davis Islands from Montana. He worked for nine years as a mechanic at the local Shell station, and when a spot opened on E Davis, he took it over.

DeLeary pumped gas for the ladies who lunch. Checked valves and loose gaskets for Mercedes, BMW and Land Rover owners.

He raised a family in a rental home on Davis Islands, then moved into a small house in South Tampa.

He employs two mechanics _ including his son Ric, 36.

Word about his departure has been the talk of Davis Islands for weeks, he says.

"It's a shame," said Kelly Paulina, who works at nearby Tampa General Hospital.

When her car broke down on the Gandy Bridge, "I took it to George," she said.

She calls the station "Mayberry."

When her car was stolen, DeLeary asked around at his church for someone with an extra car. He often talks about his grandchildren.

"You didn't feel like you are going to a 7-Eleven," Paulina said. "That's the part that I will miss."

Other customers feel the same.

"In a pinch, he's checked out my car," said Janice Davis-Petrik, a 10-year customer and a member of the Davis Islands Chamber of Commerce.

She said DeLeary's departure is evidence of a trend all over the island _ all over America. Recently, the local grocery store, Davis Island Supermarket, closed after about 45 years.

"You try so hard to hold on to these things," Davis-Petrik said.

Nov. 9, DeLeary ran out of regular gas.

Nov. 12, super.

He's trimmed his hours, closing now at 5 p.m. instead of 7 p.m.

Tears start to come to his dark eyes when he talks about leaving. He says he's not bitter. "It is just one of those things."

At 61, DeLeary wants to keep working and hopes another garage will employ him. But, really, he wishes he could stay where he is.

"I like to take care of my little corner," he said.