WALLACE – Wallace has its gas station back.
“Yes, (it) was the best day ever,” said Amy Ouderkirk.
Ouderkirk is co-owner, with her husband, of the new Ultramar in the heart of the village. She was talking about Sunday. The convenience store, NSLC outlet and gas retailer opened its doors at 6:30 a.m. that morning.
The previous Ultramar was destroyed by fire Dec. 21 of last year. The Ouderkirks were the owners of that business, too, but not the owners of the building. When Ultramar corporate decided not to rebuild, the Ouderkirks took matters into their own hands.
“We actually own the building now,” she said.
The land, fuel and fuel-related equipment, such as pumps, is owned by Ultramar. But the parent company has agreed to a 20-year deal with the Ouderkirks, instead of the two-year contract that previously existed.
“It’s more than just a store,” said Denise Darragh, who works in the shop and previously owned the business.
It’s the place to stop in the morning, she said. People, men, gather around the coffee machine. She called it a community store.
A store has been at the centre of Wallace, in one form or another, for along time.
“This business has been here for 80 years…,” said Ouderkirk.
Breigh Halverson and Trish Clarkson were at the counter, making a purchase. Halverson endorsed the cookies, while Clarkson seemed glad she’d no longer have to – her description – use $10 in gas to go buy $20 in gas.
Wally Vaters, a supervisor at the Whirligig Café across the road from the Ultramar, was one of the people active in petitioning Ultramar to rebuild. The gas station and its store are more like partners than competitors, according to him – part of Wallace’s small business centre.
“It’s a stopping point,” he said, for locals, visitors and summer residents.
Vaters wasn’t entirely satisfied with the outcome. He’d hoped past loyalty and future patronage would sway the gas corporation into a larger commitment to rebuild. But he’s please with the local solution.
“They’re the real heroes,” he said of the local owners.
Ouderkirk said they had long discussions about what to do, and wouldn’t have jeopardized the family’s well-being to rebuild the site. But she expressed her belief a good business could be made in Wallace. According to the owner, the community has been supportive – they received hugs and flowers opening day, for example – and the NSLC stuck by them.
“Everybody’s ecstatic,” said the owner.