Joy Oil: Old Indianapolis storefront with over 100 years of history

Joy Oil Station

As US cities struggle to cope with a decline in population, in-house gas stations, a tradition rich in Indianapolis culture, have been quietly vanishing. But until recently Indianapolis had a sweet life story on its hands.

Joy Oil Company was part of a collection of companies formed with the founding of Indianapolis by Elliot Joy in 1913. At the time there were only three gas stations in the city and Joy Oil Company was the single biggest. In 2014 the company began reducing its footprint by selling off land parcels to surrounding landowners, but the current site remains unchanged and listed as a landmark within the city’s main industrial centre.

With a name painted on the outside of the store front and products being pulled down on a big sign, it might not be easy to take a lap round to make a purchase at the Joy Oil Gas Station. Yet the site forms part of a thriving community of independent businesses and organisations that share a campus and a common front at the corner of and Pratt Avenue.

But the simple fact is the Joy Oil gas station is no longer taking in the footfall. When the building’s exterior was whitewashed in 2009, the building is now stitched with cables: an overhead Internet exchange, a data centre, a co-op marketplace, a travel agents’ school – and now a fuel station which hopes to have an expanded shop operation as soon as possible.

The location, located in an industrial area of southeast Indianapolis, has some interesting history that dates back to 1919 when Mayor Elmer Smith founded Pratt Park to attract industries with free land. The city even sent buses around to transport potential investment to his administration office, and by its success, the area soon had a population.

As a result there were plentiful stores around the park that included Joy Oil and the museum for local residents and visitors to see a range of coal miners and engines. By the 1970s the park had become a kind of “green-fingered village”, with residents rowing boats in the lake, golf carts, and even bee colonies.

In 1977 Miller Oil closed its convenience store on the site – this made it the first convenience store to close its doors in the US since the 1950s. But this takeover occurred with American society in the throes of a sustained recession. The novelty of the petrol station paid for itself and its nostalgia then swept them off their feet – but there were not enough customers to keep them from shutting their doors forever.

It became a landlord with 11 tenants, including a bank and a post office – until Miller Energy, which was a US subsidiary of Miller Oil, bought them up in 1987 for $3.2m in an effort to increase their future sales – though it apparently never worked out. The tenants were out-of-use, and many of them had no choice but to move onto smaller properties, where land is cheaper.

By 2010 Joy Oil was sold to American Energy LLC which decided to hold onto the small, historic building. There were 32 gas pumps inside, though – but these were still shuttered. The company claim to have put $2m into the site, spending $400,000 to refurbish it over the past few years. But the additional pumps are not hooked up, and the years of expensive renovation work has left the cash-strapped business in deep debt.

This is now prompting fears over the future of the site. The main drag of Pratt Avenue is still easy enough to get into, thanks to the various petrol stations around, and a short ride further down the road offers the possibility of a trip to Galveston, Texas. The Joy Oil site has been on the State’s Register of Historic Places since the 1990s and was recently added to the National Register.

In the longer term the man behind the business, Joyce Lyons, does hope to sell his shares in the business and walk away from the physical factory. He has been involved in the industrial area for 20 years. “I don’t think it’s a bad idea for the general public,” he says of the relaunch. “I’m not against something happening, but I can’t imagine anyone purchasing that land – a space of nearly one million square feet is a very large space.”

But he has urged the city council to take some action and help get people back in their cars and driving. There have been proposals to move the site to another industrial area, and to provide a long-term power supply to the site. He believes a long-term deal would attract

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