Bobby Rose, owner, operator, proprietor and head mechanic of a Phillips 66 gas station and two-bay car repair shop on the corner of 3rd Avenue and N Street in Salt Lake City, operated these past 34 years on one business philosophy:
Do unto others as you would like to have done unto your mother.
His entire business plan rested on that one corollary of the golden rule. It wasn’t something he learned from a corporate coach or motivational seminar or read in a book. It was purely instinctual on his part. He dreamed it up himself.
“He always joked that the two things people complain most about are haircuts and car mechanics,” explained Bobby’s wife, Sherrie. “So he had this idea to do for everybody like he’d want his mother to be treated if she was stuck on the road, if it was her car that broke down.”
How’d that work out?
You’d have gotten a pretty good idea if you’d driven past Bobby’s gas station in the early evening two weeks ago. There were so many people on the corner of 3rd and N you’d have thought they were giving away free gas.
But this was no giveaway. This was the entire neighborhood coming by to throw Bobby the mother of all retirement parties.
Time to hang up the coveralls
The news leaked out earlier this year what Bobby had in mind: At 66, he’d decided it was time to hang up his coveralls.
Part of it was because of a health scare last August that required heart surgery. Part of it was he was more than sure he’d done enough oil changes to last a lifetime. The clincher was when he found a buyer ready and willing to pay market value for the property the gas station sits on, aka Bobby and Sherrie’s 401K.
So that was that. The new owner, with aims on rezoning the corner for residential, gave Bobby until the end of May to close down the mechanic bays and until the end of June to shut off the gas pumps.
Immediately, phones started ringing all along 3rd Avenue. The first reaction was Dang!
What would they do without Bobby?
He wasn’t just a mechanic. He was their mechanic.
Everyone had their Bobby stories. They were all different and all the same.
He knew everyone’s name. He was as honest as the day is long. He didn’t gouge. Didn’t try to sell you something you didn’t need. He made house calls to deliver gas, to fix flat tires. He’d give you his opinion on what cars to buy. He allowed people to charge gas and repairs. If an older person pulled up he’d run out and pump their gas. When neighborhood kids wanted to work on their cars, he’d loan them his tools. If they wanted to learn, he’d let them watch. He always kept half of each day’s appointments open for his regular customers in case they had an emergency. If someone wasn’t happy, he didn’t charge them.
For 34 years, ever since he bought the station in the summer of 1987, he ran his station like that.
Soon enough, the idea emerged from the neighborhood in mourning that if Bobby had the gall to leave them, he deserved a proper send-off. Holly Webster called Jesselie Anderson and they started an email chain that just kept ballooning. No one was in charge and everyone was in charge.
The first plan was to have some water and soft drinks and hang a “We Love Bobby” banner from the canopy. Then someone pitched in to bring in the Silver Moon Taqueria food truck to provide free tacos. Then a band called High Nowhere, including some former 3rd Avenue residents — and of course Bobby fans — agreed to provide the entertainment. A professional photographer, Kent Miles, volunteered to take photos of Bobby and display them for the party. Someone else ordered a huge cake in the shape of the 3rd Avenue Car Clinic set on top of a chocolate automobile tire.
“We didn’t ask one person to do one thing,” said Jesselie Anderson. “It was all so spontaneous, so grassroots.”
When they called Bobby and told him the party was planned for 5-7 p.m. on May 29, he admits his first impulse was “to run.”
“I thought I’d just not be here one day,” he said when asked about his own retirement plan.
Instead, he found himself embraced by the neighborhood he’d embraced for 34 years.
When the throng of well-wishers was at its fullest, Bobby’s son Dallin — a replica of his father who has worked right alongside him the past decade — stood up to address the crowd.
”Thank you for being my dad’s friend all these years,” he said. “We’ll miss every one of you.”
Bobby then took the mic and managed to say “Thank you ...” before he teared up and couldn’t go on.
The turnout and the outpouring, he confessed, was almost too much to take.
“I think I’ve just been a normal person. The only thing I did that was maybe different is I treated everyone like my friend; like they’d like to be treated or how I’d want my mom to be treated.
“It’s overwhelming, all these people coming and saying nice things about you,” he said as he surveyed the crowd. “This is like going to your own funeral and you’re not dead.