Jappy Stringer's employees fixed one final flat tire Friday afternoon. Then, Stringer locked up around 5:30 and took in the U.S. flag he put up every morning outside his shop on Fair Road.
By Monday morning there was no flag, only signs that said, "Business is Closed."
Thus ended the Stringer family's 45 years operating a service station at the same spot in Statesboro. Also, it marked 30 years of Jappy running the place and 27 that he and wife Emily worked there together. Prior to this year the station operated as Stringer Chevron and decades earlier was Stringer Standard Oil.
Friday brought fewer actual cars to service than the Stringers expected, but more devoted friends, including customers and former employees, stopping by just to wish them well. Some cried.
"Lots of folks came by and told us they were sorry we were closing and that they didn't know what they were going to do without us. I tried to recommend some places. ..." Jappy Stringer said. "But the Lord has led in this direction, and I just think it's time for me to close this chapter of my life and start something different."
The Stringers are slated for a real estate closing Wednesday with representatives of the Waycross-based Jones Company, which is buying the site for one of its Flash Foods convenience stores.
Troubles of 2014
Now 58, Jappy Stringer was not planning to retire or sell the place just yet. But 2014 brought a series of challenges and sad farewells that seemed to point in that direction.
"Last year was a year of change for us and we had to decide what we were going to do, since my main mechanic and friend died ... and Emily went through some health problems and we had our gas tank problem out there and my mother died the first of the year," he said. "... I did a lot of praying."
His mother, Betty Stringer, died Jan. 6, 2014. She and his father, Bobby Stringer, who passed in 1996, once worked together in the station much as Emily and Jappy have done. Bobby Stringer started in the service station business in Statesboro more than 50 years ago, at the intersection of North Main and Parrish Streets.
In 1970 he bought the Standard Oil franchise on Fair Road. Photos from the period show a two-lane highway where there are now five lanes.
Then the area's Standard Oil stations became Chevron stations. Bobby and Betty Stringer bought the property from Chevron in 1984 but remained with the brand. Jappy, whose real name is Jasper, took over the business in 1985.
He and Emily have been married 38 years. She started working at the station in 1988. As traditional in mom-and-pop businesses of this type, she did the bookkeeping, greeted customers and sometimes drove cars in for servicing, while he got hands-on with mechanical tasks.
Last summer, Emily was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer.
"We caught it early and everything's fine," she says now, after a series of good checkups.
Meanwhile, Stringer Chevron's underground storage tanks were leaking - a very common problem at older gas stations. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division required correction action, and in July, the Stringers stopped selling gas.
"We've done everything that the EPD has required for us to do," Jappy Stringer said. "It's not a big problem, but it's enough of a problem that I just stopped."
Then the late summer brought a sadder blow. Russell Smith, a skilled mechanic who had worked with the Jappy since 1985, was diagnosed with advanced stage lung cancer, and died the next month, Sept. 11, 2014, at age 63.
"He was like a brother to us." Stringer said.
By early 2015, the fact that the Chevron sign was down and the gas pumps had been removed began to attract notice. As revealed in City Council and Planning Commission meetings, both Flash Foods and its competitor Enmark have been actively interested in building new stations on Fair Road and near its terminus on South Main Street.
During a single week, three or four people with different companies called Stringer asking if he wanted to sell his property. He called Todd Manack of Manack Signature Properties.
"I just called my friend Todd Manack and said, ‘Please, you take care of this for me. I can't run my business and talk to people wanting to buy it,'" Stringer said.
Even then, Stringer did not really want to get out, he said, but was willing to listen.
"Flash Foods came up with a really good offer," Stringer said. "They came up to my price."
Manack confirmed that there was a sudden flurry of interest. Restaurants, as well as two different convenience store chains, expressed interest, he said.
"And then to get a couple of offers for the same property, it's a good problem to have," Manack said.
The Stringers have until June 30 to clear out the property.
Last week long-term customers stopped in to have their cars serviced one last time. One of them was Georgia Southern history professor James Woods, a regular for almost 20 years.
"He's been a wonderful friend and a real professional, and you couldn't find a more honest and decent person than Jappy Stringer," Woods said. "You can quote me on that."
John Motes had been coming in even longer, ever since Jappy Stringer first started there, for service on his vehicles
"I'm sorry to see them go. ...They did it all," Motes said. "What he didn't do, Russell done it."
Stringer Chevron was part of a critically endangered species, service stations where attendants pumped gas for their customers.
Some former employees also found reasons to stop in last week. Brandon Peterson, now 31 and a baseball and football coach at Southeast Bulloch High School, worked at Stringer Chevron as an attendant while he was a Georgia Southern University student from the age of 19 into his early 20s.
"I learned a good bit about cars, but more than that, I learned a lot about how to treat people and, you know, how to do things the right way," Peterson said.
He brought his car in for service Thursday.
"After I worked here I don't believe I've taken my car anywhere else since," Peterson said.
Eddie Bunch, 78, stopped by as well, but then he pretty much always visited the station once or twice a week since he gave up working there a few years ago. Bunch, who had operated a service station of his own, then worked for Jappy Stringer for about 25 years.
"He was real good to work for, he and his wife both," Bunch said.
He worked there full-time until age 66, but after retiring, kept coming back to work for them part-time. He will miss the station.
"I've missed it already, ever since I've retired," Bunch said.
As for what the former service station owners will do now, Emily Stringer indicated that she has a home honey-do list in mind.
But beyond that, they remain undecided.
Meanwhile, they are inviting anyone they've done business with to stop by for peanuts and soft drinks between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 20.
"We'd like for our customers to stop by for one more goodbye," she said.
NOTE: The Stringer service station in this story is unrelated to Stringer Tire Services on North Zetterower Avenue.