Hubert Gomes stood behind a rack of Bic lighters and 5-Hour Energy shots, his eyes turned toward a television that played a steady stream of Indian news and soap operas. Ding. The door to the Shell station announced the entrance of a patron.
“Hey, Hubert,” said the young man, nonchalantly, as if he and Hubert were buds.
“Hi, how are you today?” Hubert replied, a smile across his face.
They conducted their transaction: a bottled water, some Funyuns in watermelon-colored packaging, “$4 and 28 cents with tax,” and a Visa slid through a credit card terminal. Then, the young man was off — another happy customer.
“Here the customers are very nice and friendly,” Hubert said. “I like it here in Texas.”
Hubert’s Shell station is plopped on an island of commercial zoning that is otherwise surrounded by the single-story homes of the 109’s Westcliff neighborhood. On the corner of Kell Street and South Hills Avenue, across from Fire Station No. 21, TCU students drift in and out of his dinging door, holding their brief exchanges with the friendly fellow behind the counter.
According to Hubert, 80 percent of his customers are TCU students.
“We sell a lot of beer for the college kids,” he said. “And also a whole lot of energy drinks, especially when the exams come and the students are studying all night.”
Actually, the ability to study is what brought Hubert and his family to the United States.
“We moved here so the kids could get a better education,” Hubert said. “Now, they’re doing very good in school. They like the system of teaching here in Texas.”
With exactness that underscores a pivotal moment in life, Hubert recited the date that his family emigrated from Dhaka, Bangladesh to Texas: “Jan. 6, 2004.”
His family traveled first to Arlington, where his brother lived, then moved to Fort Worth once Hubert got a job working for the Shell station, which was then a Fina.
Once Hubert and his family decided they liked Westcliff, they bought the business in 2006 and moved into a house on Winston, two streets away.
In the five years he has spent working at the gas station, Hubert has seen gas prices ranging from $2.39 a gallon in 2005 to $3.19 in 2008, when crude oil was at a record $100 per barrel. He has sold countless cigarettes, Twinkies, and bottled waters, and made several friendships with his amicable smile along the way.
It was 11:18 am on Thursday, Oct. 28, and a red SUV pulled up to Hubert’s station.
“Oh, this is the Heineken guy,” Hubert said. “He comes in here all the time–grabs a six-pack of Heineken light.”
The man entered. “Hey Hubert, how’re you doing?”
“I’m doing good, sir. How are you?”
The man’s shoes squeaked across the linoleum floor. He opened the refrigerator, letting a humming gust of cool air pour out. “Anything new going on in India today?”
Hubert turned to the television. “No, nothing new.” He scanned the man’s Heinekens. They said their “see-ya-laters” as the man walked out the door.
Short conversations peppered the day in Hubert’s station: succinct, congenial, adequate.
According to residents of the 109 like Alan Carameros, a senior at TCU, these visits keep the customers coming back.
“Hubert! I like giving my business to Hubert,” he said. “He’s a nice guy, and he’s been there forever. You don’t really feel like you’re just talking to an employee.”
According to Hubert, the feelings are mutual.
“Here the customers and TCU students are very helpful. Whenever they see anything wrong, they always tell me so I can fix it,” he said.
And if it’s not the amenable shopkeeper, it’s the approximate location.
The Shell sits on a corner near the Westcliff Shopping Center, an anomalous development in a residential area that harbors an Albertsons, Ace Hardware, Chase Bank, Bella Pasta & Pizza, and several other businesses.
Grant Gary, a broker who leases spaces in the Westcliff center for the Woodmont Company, said the shopping center is likely grandfathered in.
“It’s been that way for a long time,” Gary said. “That shopping center was built before any of these houses were around here.”
According to research by Winni Klein, a realtor for the Greater Fort Worth Association of Realtors, a developer name J.E. Foster bought and developed the Westcliff shopping center in 1945.
Foster’s company, The Westcliff Company, developed the shopping area first, then, continued to develop the neighborhood around it with his partners at the Riverside Development Corp. from 1945 to 1965.
Hubert rested his palms on the counter.
“I have a dentist who’s very nice. He always comes to the shop and we talk,” he said. “Except the dentist — he had a stroke last year, and suddenly I didn’t see him for like six months — and he used to come every day. Then, one day, he came to the shop to say ‘hi,’ and I was just so happy to see him.”
Hubert’s wife and 18-year-old son help him run the station while his 13-year-old daughter attends school.
“We’re very happy here,” Hubert said.
Chilton Tippin is a freelance writer who lives in the 109.