A life of service that started when gas cost pennies and the Edsel was futuristic

Street Stories

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The world changed around Duva’s Gas Station, but what goes on near the pumps has stayed pretty much the same for 70 years.

The secret behind how the Mount Pleasant business has been humming along is simple, according to Kenny Duva, the son of the man who opened the shop in 1949.

“I guess being nice to your customers,” he said with a smile and a shrug.

Duva’s day starts before the sun comes up – at 4:30 in the morning.

Within a short time, he has a customer.

“Hi Brian,” he says in the dark. “How are you?”

That would be one of the about 200 tanks he fills during an average day.

One day out of seven decades for a business still thriving in an era when full-service gas stations have all but disappeared.

A black-and-white photo takes you back to the beginning when a big Esso sign cast a shadow over the pumps.

Now, there’s a banner above the service station that commemorates 70 years in business this month.

Duva started working there only 50-years ago at the age of 15 and nods his head when asked if it’s hard to believe he’s seen the price of fuel climb to its current price of $2.45 a gallon for regular.

“It was 25 cents a gallon when I started,” Duva said. “I walked here from LaSalle [High School] back then.”

For Duva, business is always booming.

“Hi,” he says to a customer with a big smile.

It’s difficult to keep the face of this now one man show in front of the camera for questions about his secrets of success.

“Fill it?” he asks.

The driver gives him a nod and Duva is quickly off to the pump before serving another customer.

“I love it,” he said. “The only thing I don’t like is the snow.”

It’s service with a smile, and sometimes, service with salad from his nearby garden.

“Oh!” a driver says after getting a bag of tomatoes and cucumbers. “Look at you.”

Panting passengers get a little something too, with Duva handing treats to a pair of labradors hanging their heads out of one car’s windows.

Marge Marandola is one of many long-time customers.

“There’s no one who can replace him,” she said. “He’s that nice, and that wonderful of a person. He’ll do anything for you.”

Duva smiled and noted he serves Marandola’s “whole family.”

At one point, Tommy Sacco, the namesake of Tommy’s Pizza, rolls up.

“My father started it in 1955,” Sacco said.

He nods his head and grins as he acknowledges Duva’s was pumping gas and repairing vehicles for six years before Tommy’s baked its first pie.

“His father used to work on my car all the time in my hotrod days,” Sacco said. “Time flies.”

It did for Duva as well.

“Like that,” he says with a snap of his fingers. “It went fast.”

He’s not sure how much longer Duva’s will be in business, but hints you might see a “75-years-in-business” banner someday.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

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