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Pumped Up: Island’s Last Remaining Gas Station Reopens for the Long Haul

Kelly's Sea-Bay Sunoco in Lavallette, NJ. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Kelly’s Sea-Bay Sunoco in Lavallette, NJ. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

A day after it reopened for business, customers began tricking back into the entrance at Kelly’s Sea-Bay Sunoco station in Lavallette Friday.

The reopening came after 44 days of construction to install two new, 10,000 gallon fuel tanks at the station. The task included pumping more than 2.5 million gallons of water from the ground (digging 15-feet into the ground a block from the ocean, on a barrier island, has its challenges) and the collaboration of several work crews as well as help from the borough’s building department. But the story of the new tanks is not so much a story about a gas station, but a significant investment into the Lavallette community.

“We moved 600 tons of dirt, we added two 10,000 gallon storage tanks, and when we reopened, it was just amazing,” said Kelly, who has owned the station – the last remaining between Island Beach State Park and Point Pleasant – for 35 years. Before he purchased the station, it was owned directly by Sunoco Corporation.

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The red-tape horror stories that complicate many similar projects wasn’t an issue in town, and being closed for 44 days has brought the station’s staff and community even closer together, Kelly said.

“The Borough of Lavallette’s construction officials were amazing,” Kelly said. “All they kept telling me was, ‘we want to help you, we want to get you open.'”

“Anywhere we went in the last 44 days, every person we met asked when we would reopen,” he continued. “So we really do think people will appreciate us even more, and we appreciate our customers even more. We missed them and they missed us.”

Kelly's Sea-Bay Sunoco in Lavallette, NJ. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Kelly’s Sea-Bay Sunoco in Lavallette, NJ. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Kelly said he believes the $300,000 investment is well-worth it in Lavallette, where a strong mix of borough residents, local business owners and summer visitors have forged the type of relationship that is one rarely seen since the mom-and-pop service stations of the past began to close. As Shorebeat was taking a few photos, a van from Garden State Modular Homes, a dedicated commercial customer, pulled up, with the company’s owner expressing his congratulations to Kelly – and filling up his tank.

“It’s funny because you can’t see it – everything I did is underground, right there,” Kelly said, pointing to a construction project whose only signs are fresh concrete in the tank area.

For Kelly, the best part about reopening is welcoming his customers back and getting things back to normal around the business.

“I’m very used to keeping the station super-clean, and it was difficult for me to work in dirt and dust, hammering and concrete all around, every day,” Kelly said. “I was so happy to plant flowers today, sweep up and get the place clean.” •


BONUS: The interesting history of Kelly’s Sea-Bay Sunoco station

The Pew family – the wealthy owners of Sunoco, also known as the Sun Oil Company of Philadelphia – decided to build a summer home in Mantoloking in the 1930s. Their preferred method of travel: a sea plane from Philadelphia to the island. The trip in was easy, but there was nowhere to fill the plane for its trek back to the city. So, naturally, a Sunoco station popped up nearby.

“They would have people bring gas cans back up to their sea plane so they could fly back,” said Kelly, 60, who landed his first job at the station as a teenager, pumping gas.

Back then, he said, he was interested in becoming an architect after some inspiration from mechanical design teachers at his high school. But the summer job at Sunoco offered a unique perk: being around cars, and with the help of a neighbor who restored and customized vehicles, Kelly soon learned the tricks of the mechanic trade.

Read the entire article on the station’s history here.

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