LEWISTON — Jim Grimmel smiles like a guy with a secret.
Customers breeze into his service station office. Workers walk through. The phone rings again and again. But Grimmel doesn’t hurry. Instead, he leans back in his office chair as he talks on the phone with a regular customer and flashes a toothy grin.
“I’m so good, it’s sickening,” he tells the person on the phone.
The owner of Grimmel’s Gas Up has been having fun.
Most days, he knows which customers will stop by at 7, 7:30 or 8 a.m. He knows the salesmen and the police officers, the elderly women who need help maintaining their cars and the working folks who need a deal on used tires so they can get to their jobs.
“I have the best customers in the world,” he said. “That’s why I stay in business. That’s why I love my job.”
It’s a job he’s been doing for 44 years.
His uncles, Paul and Joe Grimmel, started the place during World War II. They sold it to their brother Richard.
As a kid in high school, Jim started pumping gas here when it cost 19 cents a gallon. He left Lewiston for a stint in the Air Force. When he returned, Jim bought out his uncle. He was 29.
Jim Grimmel is still pumping gas.
It’s something that’s been lost in an age when customers pump their own gas at a place whose primary job is selling potato chips, beer and cigarettes.
For Grimmel, it’s good business.
While he’s pumping gas, he peeks at the tires and the wipers. He checks the oil. Often, needed fixes are done in his shop.
“You can’t run a business from under a car,” he said.
But there’s a social component, too.
“I love that full service aspect of it,” he said. “I meet a lot of people out front.”
That seems to drive the 73-year-old man with the freshly barbered shock of gray hair.
And though he’s been married to his wife, Irene, for 48 years, he’s a flirt. Women are greeted at the station with a bigger smile and a “Hello, Love.”
Longtime female customers also know they can swap small odd-jobs on their cars for a hot apple pie.
“I’m an apple pie connoisseur,” he said, saying he has inspired women to bake for him who rarely bake for their families. “I average three to six apple pies a week.”
“I feel that I’ve put a lot of women back in the kitchen,” he joked. The pie is part of a diet regimen that includes two doughnuts and coffee for breakfast and a whoopie pie for lunch.
Yet, he remains fit by moving. Though he has a staff of two full-timers and one part-time worker, he continues to work on cars. He answers 75 to 100 phone calls a day and works the pump.
He has little interest in slowing down.
He spends most weekends at his camp on an Aroostook County lake. Deer trophies, collected while hunting there, line one wall of his Lewiston office.
Grimmel once tried setting himself up for retirement, buying a condo in Florida. But he never stopped working.
“I spent 10 nights there in 10 years,” he said. “So, I sold it.”
He figures he has another decade in him before he closes the Gas Up.
“I don’t want to stop moving,” he said.