The Hilltop Service Station on 15th Avenue East — one of Seattle’s last full service gas stations — could be at the end of the road of more than 50 years of business on Capitol Hill. The station stopped selling gas this month though the busy garage continues to serve drivers from Capitol Hill and beyond. The land is up for sale.
Station owner Mike Burke has mixed feelings about the situation.
“I’m sad it’s a part of the community soon to change dramatically,” he said, “but at some point one has to accept the reality and move forward.”
Gary Bergamini, who passed away last November, owned the property since the 1960s. His assets moved into a trust operating on behalf of his heirs.
Burke came along in the late ‘70s, moving up from a gas pumper to a business partner. He will not make any new business decisions, however, until he talks with the property’s buyers. They could negotiate for the station to stay a while longer. But a developer is actively pursuing the property, according to Burke.
“So what do you think is gonna happen in Seattle,” he said.
The real estate manager representing the family in the planned sale did not return our call for comment.
Now 62, Burke said he made the move to an independent full service station when Texaco wanted to convert all gas stations to self service and convenience stores.
“It’s more profitable [for them],” Burke said. “We provide a continuity of service. It has to do with relationships with people, not just chains and customers. We’ve had decades-long customers because we’ve become friends.”
Hilltop Service Station was established circa 1966-1967 in the same lot it occupies today on the corner of 15th and E Mercer. The garage has been a convenient stop for Hill residents to get their cars fine-tuned, calipers fixed, oil changed, and of course, gas tanks filled.
Once home to the city’s Auto Row, Capitol Hill’s car-related businesses have mostly been replaced by banks, bars, restaurants, and new apartment buildings. The area’s gas stations are also increasingly unnecessary — and fewer and farther between. One of the most recent examples comes at 23rd and Union Street where the old Union 76 station was demolished to make way for a new six-story apartment and grocery store development.
The gas and service station business around Capitol Hill isn’t dead yet. Over the summer, the 76 station at Roy and Broadway changed hands in a transaction involving a $10 property sale, according to King County records and state liquor license applications. And 15th Avenue East pot shop owner Ian Eisenberg — known for the Uncle Ike’s pot chain — tells CHS he might try to create his own full service station at the site of a property he purchased on E Union in 2015.
“I’d love to do a full service just like Hilltop,” Eisenberg said. “Hilltop was the best. I love that place, it’s kind of nostalgic and cool and different. It’s sad because they’re super nice people and do great service.”
But change continues to ripple up and down 15th Avenue East. Earlier this year, Capitol Hill-based developer Hunters Capital purchased the block of buildings including the neighborhood’s QFC for $11.25 million.
Burke, meanwhile, wants to thank his customers and the Capitol Hill community for their support over the years.
“We are absolutely grateful to our customers and community for the support over many years,” he said.