A chaotic occurrence happened in La Farge for several days last week. The Z-zip Stop was kind of closed! It was more like a Z-zip Stopped! There was nowhere in the village to buy gasoline or diesel fuel! Citizens of La Farge were without the conveniences of a convenience store! EEK!
The mayhem began around 10 pm on the evening of Sunday, October 25th. As the Z-zip Stop closed its doors for the evening, machines of evil destruction moved in. In the darkness of night (although lighted by the village streetlights and the lights of the business itself) the pulverization of the parking lot occurred. By morning the gas pumps were gone, never to be seen again (actually, they stood over by the alley next to the motel). The cement of the parking lot was completely pounded to pieces save for a new portion between the pumps and the sidewalk next to Main Street that had been poured only a week prior. As people sleepily drove towards La Farge’s only gas station/convenience store that Monday morning, expecting to pick up a cup of Joe or their morning newspaper, they were shocked to see the parking lot marked off with the yellow tape of a crime scene. Going to the Z-zip Stop was a no-go; business as usual was stopped!
Actually, regular customers to the Z-zip Stop should not have been that amazed at the goings-on there that morning. For the previous week, there had been a sign in the front door warning customers, “NO GAS OR FUEL!!” followed by a lengthy explanation on the renovations planned for the business for a few days (and the days were individually listed when there would be no gas) of the following week. But who has time to read such proclamations? Certainly not most of us loyal customers needing our daily visit with Jenni, Megan, or Diane, who all work at the Z-zip Stop.
I had read the sign on the door, a couple of times actually as there had been some editing done to the original warning, but still I was totally unready for the days of deprivation. I had even mentioned to Jenni on one occasion prior to the “Eve of Destruction”, as she punched through my lottery cards, that it looked like there wouldn’t be any gas available for a few days. She shot me back a wary glance and muttered something about how it might be longer and that wouldn’t be the only thing not for sale. I should have known!
As I stood on Main Street on that fateful Monday morning with other people wondering how we could get to the front door of the Z-zip Stop, I contemplated on when was the last time that the village had been “gasless”? How long had it been since there was no place to buy gasoline in La Farge for your vehicle of choice?
We could go back to that terrible day in September of 2001 when the terrorist attacks on America took place. The fear that followed caused a gas run in La Farge that evening as the line of vehicles wanting to gas up or top off reached beyond a block long. The gas tanks at the Z-zip Stop ran dry that night due to the panic.
Earlier, when the last set of gas pumps were installed at the Z-zip Stop (I believe those were the second set of pumps there at the station), they had the credit card feature added so gas could be purchased even when the station was closed. Before that, there were those after-closing evening hours when you could not buy gas in town. When you have one gas station in town – that can be a problem.
Back in the heyday of La Farge’s Main Street business district, there used to be nearly a dozen places where you could buy gas. Someone usually knew someone who could open up one of those La Farge business places and sell some late night or early morning gas to you. (I can remember such phone calls to my Dad when he owned C&S Motors back in the 1950s and ‘60s.)
Later when the number of businesses selling gas in La Farge decreased, those places being closed at night or on weekends really became a problem. When the oil crisis of the early 1970s hit America with a gasoline shortage, small town gas stations like La Farge’s could not get enough gasoline to last for seven days, so closing on weekends was almost mandatory. Later when the number of gas stations in La Farge diminished to two or three, sometimes none were open for business on Sundays. (When we operated the root beer stand in La Farge back in the early 1980s, we would often be the only business open in La Farge on a Sunday evening. Many a time, we had to send folks new to town out to Viroqua for gas on those summer Sunday evenings.)
The Z-zip Stop opened on La Farge’s Main Street in 1987. It was the first convenience store/gas station type of business in the village. Soon after it opened, the other gas station in town – Steve Olson’s Citgo Station – closed and the gas pumps fell silent there.
The new Z-zip Stop was located on the southeast corner of the village’s Main and Silver Street intersection. Previously, there had been a car lot on that corner that once had been used for the garage located across the street. Next to the corner lot, was an old two-story building that last housed storage for parts and an office for Jack Caucutts’ plumbing business. Next to that was another two-story building that had housed the offices of the Epitaph newspaper. Both of those old buildings were torn down to make room for the new gas station. After the Z-zip Stop opened, that corner soon became the busiest place in town.
Gary Leis was the guiding force behind the new business in La Farge and provided the money for the construction. He was the owner of Leis Oil in Viroqua and ran a similar gas station/convenience store on the north side of that city as the one he was building in La Farge. When interviewed for an article that appeared in the January 22, 1987 issue of the Epitaph-News, Leis said the La Farge station/store would be similar to a Kwik-Trip or Quik Stop operation. The business would be housed in a 64’ x 34’ building and would include a full line of convenience items, ranging from coffee and soda pop to basic groceries.
Leis went on to say that an in-store delicatessen would also be part of the business with fresh sandwich specials everyday and pizza for sale by the slice or pie. He also said that the deli operation selections would depend on “what business in La Farge requires”.
Leis added, “We’ll be installing two dual pumps for regular and unleaded gas. We plan to feel it out for the size of La Farge. If business calls for more pumps, we’ll put them in. We won’t blacktop the lot until it settles, so putting in extra pumps shouldn’t be a problem.” A diesel fuel pump was also added when the business was first built.
Leis planned to have the store open daily from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., but added that could change. “We’re going to adapt our store to the needs of La Farge. I don’t know what the economic impact will be, but I have high hopes or I wouldn’t be doing it.”
Needless to say, the economic impact of the new business was HUGE (going Donald Trump here) for the little village. In many ways, the Z-zip Stop, so new to La Farge, was old-fashioned in its hours and service. Being open every day for seventeen hours a day harkened back to a time when many La Farge places of business kept those same kinds of schedules to meet the needs of their customers. Businesses stayed open late for the farmers coming to town after the evening chores or for the laborer working late at the sawmill. More than once in the village’s history, there were disputes between the churches and the business places about being open on Sundays. But the businesses stayed open for the most part to accommodate the customers who couldn’t shop on any other day but Sunday because they worked twelve hours a day or more on the other six days of the week.
So, it took until Tuesday afternoon for me to figure out that the Z-Zip Stop was actually open! You just had to use the back door to get in. The new gas pumps had arrived late Monday afternoon and they had been moved to another spot nearer Main Street by Tuesday. They were still in the same place on Wednesday, but the site was nowhere near ready for installation of the pumps.Z-zip Stop owner Shane Nottestad (he had purchased the business from Leis in 1993) was nowhere to be seen as the construction progressed slowly onward. But by Thursday the pumps were lifted into place atop their concrete pedestals and by late that evening, there was a way for the villagers to buy gas and diesel fuel once again! That night cement was being poured between the pump island and the store. More of that cement work followed on Friday. That morning, the way was open to access all the new pumps from the Main Street side. The village was saved from its gas deprivation!