Gas stations look the same – a row of gas pumps, a convenience store, maybe a small repair shop. Not the kind of place where people linger any longer than necessary.
But Silver Lake design firm Built Inc. has set out to change that by teaming up with L.A. nightlife entrepreneur John Terzian.
The result was a collaboration for the makeover of a 76 gas station in Pacific Palisades, a station styled after Terzian’s popular Santa Monica nightspot Shorebar.
Sormeh Azad, Built’s creative director, said the firm wanted to make filling up a little more enjoyable.
“We found that the first step for us was to completely step out of what was expected from a gas station,” she said. “Gas stations all tend to have the same horrible design.”
The station, at Sunset Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway, didn’t undergo a major redesign, but it was adapted to reflect its seaside location. The pump stations were repainted with blue and white stripes to give it a nautical vibe. A custom red-and-white awning, representing the colors and scheme of a scuba diver flag, was built over the station’s patio area.
But the biggest reimaging of what a service station should be is found inside.
The floors were changed to a gray tile to match wood-paneled walls, which were painted a classic gray. Vintage photographs of the Palisades were then hung along the walls.
All of which surround a “tobacco bar,” where the station sells cigarettes and other products.
“It was modeled after a bar,” said station owner Robert Munakash. “But instead of alcohol displayed, it’s tobacco.”
The changes, completed two months ago, have apparently paid off.
“We’ve seen cigarette sales up when the (broader) category is down,” Munakash said.
John Sofio, Built’s founder and president, said the station renovation was the first time the company had taken on a project of that type.
“The trickiest part on this project was trying to maintain the business, to stay open during construction,” he said, “and applying our knowledge of restaurant and hospitality design to this commercial space. We really saw it as an extension of hospitality design.”
Sofio established the design and construction firm in 1997. In addition to commercial, hospitality and select residential projects, it has collaborated on several of Terzian’s nightclub concepts, including Shorebar; Hooray Henry’s in West Hollywood; and Bootsy Bellows in Aspen, Colo., and West Hollywood.
Terzian, principal of West Hollywood lifestyle company H.Wood Group, said Munakash, part of a members-only club at Shorebar, approached him with the opportunity.
“I grew up in the area,” said Terzian. “I have a strong affinity to old photos of those ’50s gas stations, and that was my goal. So, I talked to John (Sofio) about it and we worked on it for four months.”
The collaboration between the nightlife exec and design firm worked, Terzian said, because he was able to bring in his understanding of what’s important to a business owner – sales.
“I’m a business owner, not just a designer,” he said. “True designers can get a little too caught up in making it a work of art rather than on the actual operator that needs to make a living there.”
That’s why it was important to keep the business open during the renovation process, he added.
The bill for the renovation came to about $250,000, subsidized by 76 as part of a new 10-year fuel-supply agreement. Munakash explained that oil brands will often offer incentives to independent station operators to renew contracts for selling their fuel if certain sales goals are met.
The station gets about 1,000 customers a day and it excites him when some of those customers take out their camera to snap pictures of the building or comment on the vintage photos.
In fact, the results have been encouraging enough that Munakash has retained Terzian and Built to remodel his Arco station on Cloverfield Boulevard near the 10 freeway in Santa Monica. He said he’s trying to strike a long-term supply deal with Arco, similar to the one with 76, to help fund that renovation.
Jeff Appel, former vice president of gas station and convenience store operator United Oil of Gardena, said the key to any renovation is location.
“If you’re doing (a remodel) in a bad location and spend a lot of money, you could lose a lot of money,” he said.
But Appel, whose company once owned the Chevron station directly across from Munakash’s 76, said customers may be willing to spend slightly more on gas if a location is visually appealing.
“Someone would certainly go down the street to save 5 cents a gallon,” he said. “But if they feel that your facility looks better and you service the customers better, it can make a difference.”
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