If someone hadn't known better Friday watching the activity at Brannock's Service Center, he or she might have thought it was 1965 – when motorists sat in their vehicles while a supervisor pumped gas and checked the oil.
But no, a look at the calendar showed that it was actually 2021. And the scene in which one man – Marty Brannock – provided such friendly customer service was actually real and not a fantasy reminiscent of those good old days long gone.
“I saw you out there cleaning the windshield and thought, ‘People just don't do this anymore,'” customer Zack Blackmon Jr. told Brannock minutes later when she was in the long-running store on West Lebanon Street across from Veterans Memorial Park.
Couldn't think of any other full-service Mount Airy gas station offering this service, Brannock said the closest he knew was in Carroll County, Virginia – a foreign word for a generation raised on self-service.
And as of Monday, this community will no longer boast this award, as Brannocks Service Center Inc. will be closed on July 5th, according to a letter to its customers.
“After 45 years at this location, we are about to retire,” it says. “We were delighted to have served you and the City of Mount Airy for such a long time.”
“I'm just ready to go,” Brannock, 66, said Friday of the retirement decision that both he and his wife Donna were involved in. They have been married for nearly 46 years, including approximately 23 years in the Brannock Service Center office. The late Buck Brannock, Marty's father, started the company.
However, some holdovers from the operation will live on after the gas station component goes down in history.
Though the building itself is empty, longtime Brannock employee Jason Jarrell and his wife Robin will open Brannock's alignment and service center in a shop next to the gas station on July 19th.
In addition, the pumps will still be in operation – but only on a credit card basis around the clock, with no more friendly faces.
end of an era
That prospect had many customers expressing sadness on Friday as they stopped by to say goodbye to the Brannocks, which included more than a few hugs.
“I'm not going to cry,” said longtime customer Nancy Caruthers of Westfield, whose emotions in that direction were still evident as she and Marty hugged each other warmly.
On Friday it quickly became clear that it was not just the service aspect that made the Brannock Service Center so attractive, but the personal touch it embodied.
“He's wonderful to me,” said Caruthers of Marty Brannock, noting that she has been patronizing the business since 1998.
“You have so many people who depend on you,” Blackmon said to Brannock.
Including Deborah Cochran, a former mayor of Mount Airy and longtime radio personality who lives near the station.
“My cars are over 20 years old and they have serviced my cars for decades,” Cochran praised the crew at Brannock's and praised “Marty's positive attitude” along with the full treatment at the pumps.
“Everything from inspections, batteries, tires, brakes, and gasoline – they even come to the house and pick up the cars,” added Cochran. “There's no telling how many people kept them on the street, and I go to Winston-Salem ten months a year.”
Brannock said he relied on a simple philosophy in his interactions with customers. “I've always tried to give people the best advice and the best value for money,” he said of dealing with various automotive topics.
It's a formula that has proven successful with people from near and far.
“We all love him,” Blackmon said of Brannock.
Likewise, customers don't want to see him go.
“It seems like everything is changing these days,” said Cochran. “When Marty and Donna told me they were retiring, I was shocked.”
“I have paid off my debts”
The business world has changed a lot over the years and when you talk to Marty Brannock you get the impression that at some point people want to get away from the pressures and just enjoy life to the fullest.
The station operator for many years was referring to his father.
“He was my buffer,” said Brannock, who could keep things going whenever the son wanted a trip to the beach or a motorcycle rally.
“But when dad died 15 years ago, I carried the burden – but I enjoyed it,” he said.
“I've paid my dues and enjoyed everything I've done.” Brannock says he's ready for a new “adventure”.
David Beal, another former city official who has served as both the Mount Airy police commissioner and chief of police alongside the Surry County clerk, gave an optimistic look at the situation on Friday as he stopped by to refuel.
“First of all, I think the Brannock family's history in the gas station industry is extraordinary,” said Beal.
He seemed to be comforted by the fact that the store next door, which will trade under the name Brannock, at least left an appearance of the business.
This will allow the couple's presence at the West Lebanon Street location to remain intact – at least symbolically, Beal believes.
“In my opinion, Donna and Marty will still be here.”