Tonight it's time for one of my "out of area" posts, which is the category into which I throw everything that's not Columbia or The Grand Strand. I was trying to get some pictures I took back in February into shape to upload, and came across these of Topsy Smith's Topsy's Downtown Gulf on Centre Street in Fernandina Beach.
This was where we always got our gas when we were visiting Fernandina, and where we got our car worked on when we needed it. (In those bygone days, driving US-301 all the way to Florida could take a lot out of a car). The station was around the corner from my Aunt's house and I'm sure I walked past it most every day I was there, either going to the Atlantic Avenue park, or just generally wandering around town (as kids could do in those times). this appreciation of Topsy Smith says that his was one of the only two stations in town at the time, and I can believe it, at least for the town proper -- I'm sure there was something way out on 8th street as well. It had the drive-over air hoses that would 'ding' as you pulled in (a sound you don't hear anymore) and which would alert the service staff to come out, pump your gas, wash your windows, check the radiator and battery levels and inspect your tires.
The linked article says that Smith retired in 1997, though I suspect it may be off a little as this link says that an operation called Richard's BP took out an SBA loan in 1996.
After the follow-on BP station went under, the building didn't really settle on anything solid. I believe it was a bike-rental operation at one time, and then the last business in there, the remnants of which were still visible, was a beachwear/casual-wear store called apparently Island Breeze Shop. I don't believe that lasted any longer than one season, and the building is currently still empty.
I see that Topsy Smith is remembered yearly at the Shrimp Festival with The Topsy Smith Memorial Beard Contest
UPDATE 21 July 2010 -- Apparently it's going to be a Philly cheese-steak operation next:
UPDATE 3 January 2012 -- Well, the Philly Cheese-steak thing didn't last long at all, and it was in a state of tear-down last time I went through (Aug 2011). There were also scooters there, though I saw no sign of anyone actively offering them for rental:
UPDATE 4 March 2012 -- It's now a burger joint called Tasty's. Note how the logo looks like an oldtime Gulf sign:
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