Kenewick's last full-service station hangs up gas nozzle

Mike's Exxon, believed to be the last place in the Tri-Cities to get a windshield wash, free air for tires and engine oil checked along with a gas fill-up, is closing.

Mike Henderson, who has provided a smile with the full service at First Avenue and Washington Street in Kennewick for 14 years, is hanging up the gas nozzle for good at the end of Friday's shift.

"I'm not sick, I'm not broke, and it's not Obama's fault. I just want to retire," said Henderson, who is 62.

Pumping gas and sending customers away happy has been Henderson's goal since he first washed a windshield in 1972 at Dave Dickerson's B-OK service station on Clearwater Avenue.

Henderson was 22 and not long out of the Air Force. He wasn't a car guy then, but the gas station gig was a job, and he needed one.

"I used to watch my dad work on cars. I was his gasket scraper," said Henderson, who grew up in Touchet.

Henderson said the B-OK job served him well.

"(Dickerson) had one of the biggest full-service stations around at the time," Henderson said.

Henderson said Dickerson eventually let him graduate to the shop side of the station, where he ran the repair end of the business.

Don Sorenson, one of Henderson's loyal customers through the years, said Henderson had a knack for keeping gas customers happy.

Henderson occasionally would be recruited to come out of the shop to run gas pumps and wash windshields. The odd thing was gas sales would slip a bit when Henderson went back to work in the shops, Sorenson said.

When the B-OK station owner was ready to shut it down in 1997, Henderson began looking to Tri-City Oil, owned by Craig Eerkes, about leasing his service station at Canal Drive and Fruitland Avenue.

Eerkes told Henderson the station at First Avenue and Washington Street was a better choice.

"He's a very good guy. It was nice of him to let me open this," Henderson said.

It wasn't long before Henderson's full service with a smile made the downtown Kennewick station a popular gassing-up stop.

When the end comes this week, Henderson's grandson, Bryce Henderson, 16, of Finley, will have to find another part-time job. He and his grandfather have been a tag-team on customer service this summer.

Henderson said he feels bad that he can't send his loyal customers, who come from throughout the Tri-Cities and beyond, to another full-service gas station.

"They tell me they are happy for me, but I don't know where they can go to get that kind of service," he said.

Even the occasional customer at Mike's Exxon knows his station has provided free air and an RV dump station to those who buy even a little gas or some propane.

Full service is the secret, Henderson said.

"It's what I was taught. You wash windows. You check oil, tires and wiper blades," he said.

About 80 percent of Henderson's customers at the B-OK station came to him at First and Washington when he made the move in 1997.

"I'd tell my guys those customers would have to pass four stations, so be sure to wash windows and check tires. Service is all we have. We don't have (soda) pop and the lottery," Henderson said.

But the year-in, year-out grind of seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. has worn down Henderson. In all that time, he has closed the station annually only on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's.

Service with a smile has brought some rewards, though.

Craig Liebler, an attorney in Kennewick, has been bringing doughnuts to Mike's Exxon every Saturday morning for 25 years. There also have been the occasional 50-pound sack of potatoes, tomatoes and, of course, cookies.

"People say they are happy for me, but what am I going to do?" said Henderson.

His answer: a motor home, a fishing pole and a gold pan.

"Of course, there are a few things that need to be done around the house," he added.

As for First and Washington, Henderson said look for Eerkes to turn it into a mini-mart.