Despite rising prices and competition, century-old Wittlin's Service survives

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by Lane Kimble

MENOMONEE FALLS -- When gas prices jump and consumption goes down, the major providers like Citgo or BP usually can manage.  But when you're a small, independently owned station, attracting customers takes a personal touch.

"Pretty much whatever has to get done you do," Wittlin's Service Owner John Wittlin said.

At Wittlin's, N92W17387 Appleton Ave, Menomonee Falls, WI 53051, that means competing with a lot of big gas companies.

"Growing up in a family business has a different feeling about it," the owner said.

Wittlin's grandfather built the gas station's original  building in 1907 as a Ford dealership.  Four generations of Wittlins have sold gasoline independently since the 1920s.

"With the gallonage we sell, I think we're doing OK the way we are and  then I don't have to have the restrictions they put on things and  certain things they make you do," Wittlin said.

Monday's price was about five cents cheaper than the average.  But Wittlin knows to stay competitive, his station needs more than just gas revenue.   Service, tire and food sales bring a lot of money in and keep people coming back.

"Very much a family atmosphere here in the morning," Wittlin said.  "You see them  three or four times a week year in and year out, it's very nice."

"You come in, you feel like one of the family members," long-time customer Harry Goetz said.

Goetz has pumped his gas and gotten repairs done at Wittlin's over anywhere else since 1959.

"They're very friendly and reliable and if something goes wrong, they  stand behind it," Goetz said.

"I sort of like to know the people I'm dealing with," fellow customer Bill Rietz said.  "Others, they  don't care less."

Major suppliers like BP and Mobil have offered to buy Wittlin's, but John doesn't plan on going anywhere.

"There's a lot of things we support in town here that we're part of the community," Wittlin said.  "I think that pays off."

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