Have you ever driven by a gas station and thought, “How can this be a convenience store in 2018?” I have. The Joy Oil was one of the first convenience stores in the city of Philadelphia.
Today it’s a full-service convenience store with a cafeteria inside. It’s the biggest gas station I’ve ever seen. It’s also sitting empty, waiting for a family-owned business to buy it out and turn it into an adjacent car wash. I want the owners to succeed. I also want the Joy Oil to succeed.
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But would they? And how much longer can the City of Brotherly Love get away with the rudeness it continues to display toward the owner of the gas station?
The Joy Oil has been padlocked since January. The owner of the store has repeatedly expressed his interest in being bought out, but the city tells the owner it can’t happen.
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A city spokesman told me the permit for the gas station isn’t renewed because of zoning problems.
“The city is delaying the renewal of the permit so that we can further review these issues in partnership with the owner,” spokesman Mike Dunn told me in an email.
I read all the relevant city documents and I cannot find a zoning violation. There are NO zoning violations at the Joy Oil.
There are zoning violations in the city, I understand. There are zoning violations in Philadelphia. There are zoning violations in many parts of America – and they’re being levied against mom-and-pop businesses. But not at the Joy Oil.
The Joy Oil is like an entire package – offering everything you need to live a satisfying life. But even so, the city refuses to grant a renewal.
Avalon Jackson, a spokeswoman for Mayor Jim Kenney, said the city holds small business owners to a higher standard than bigger companies.
“While our goal is to work together with small businesses, we have set a higher standard than the one applied to larger businesses,” she told me.
Fine. Fine. But not at the Joy Oil.
The city has some amazing parking enforcement tactics. It’s setting up cameras – everything – to find scofflaws who parked where they weren’t supposed to. This might yield some $100 citations, but it’s a far cry from closing a gas station that isn’t complying with zoning laws.
As far as I can tell, the City of Brotherly Love is willing to punish the owner of the gas station for doing exactly what every other family-owned business owner in Philadelphia is doing: trying to get along with the authorities.
The owner, Anand Bhutan, tells me he has spent $400,000 – dollars that are no longer there for his family. The Joy Oil hasn’t made any money in nine months – and the city has helped but not hindered Mr. Bhutan’s attempt to turn the store into a moneymaker.
“This is nuts,” he said. “I’m always impressed by America – I have big hope and a big dream for my family.”
City officials continue to turn their backs on Mr. Bhutan – because in the city of Brotherly Love, cash is better than principle.
Even with the proceeds of a parking ticket, that family still has to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep the Joy Oil cash register open. The city, meanwhile, is spending $1,500 a day maintaining the padlocked gas station.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I want the Joy Oil to succeed. But it’s a sad situation when the city tells its constituents – “I don’t care what you want.”