You used to stop at the gas station on the corner where the neatly attired attendant would “filler ’er up.” Then he would check the oil, the water in the radiator and the tire pressure before he washed the windshield, and handed out whatever premiums the company was giving away that year — tumblers, football stuff, key chains, etc., and don’t forget the Green Stamps.
These days you pump your own gasoline, wash your own windshield, and check your own tires after feeding a handful of quarters into a machine that runs just long enough to top off three tires. Then you go inside the store for any number of items you need — bread, milk, ice, etc. or didn’t know you needed — a hotdog and a cold drink, car deodorizer shaped like a cowboy hat, or a 16-function multipurpose tool for the glove box.
The Best of Texoma’s 2017 selections for gas stations consist of two convenience store chains and Kroger, a supermarket. The two local operations, Lone Star Stores and Sunshine Stores, have stories as varied as the items they offer for sale on their shelves.
Lone Star, which is the retail end of Douglass Distributing, has 23 stores in Grayson County and another half dozen or so in the Metroplex. It has been at the front of convenience store development since Bill Douglass left the corporate world of Exxon to start his own business in Sherman. Aziz Hassam has four Sunshine Convenience stores in Sherman, Denison, and Bonham, but the influence of the Pakistani native reaches beyond Texoma to the Indian sub-continent.
Bill Douglass walks into the Lone Star store at U.S. Highway 82 and Highway 75, and the first thing he does is to pick up a couple of napkins and straw wrappers that have been tossed on the floor and drop them in the trash bin. The half dozen employees in the store either have not noticed the refuse on the floor or have ignored it, but not Douglass. He does not like trash in his stores.
After a career with Exxon — he was scheduled to be the next head of Exxon’s European operations — he decided what he really wanted was to run his own business. To that end, he acquired the Exxon distributorship for Grayson County (It was the only one available at the time.) and moved to Sherman 27 years ago. Since then his business has grown from an office and a worn out tanker truck to be one of top convenience store chains in the United States.
From gasoline and oil distribution, Douglass expanded to the convenience store business. The first store built from the ground up was at US 75 and US 82, and it was like nothing this part of the country had seen before, with gourmet sandwiches, French pastries, and premium coffee. In 1997 the location was named Convenience Store of the Year by the Convenience Store trade association. A few years later the Lone Star in Van Alstyne won the same award and Douglass earned a place in the Convenience Store Hall of Fame.
So what’s in store for the stores? The Van Alstyne location is being remodeled with a high-end coffee bar that will feature Kona coffee from Hawaii. Douglass calls the concept “From aloha to howdy.”
The store will also offer in-house pastries and sandwiches produced on site by the company’s resident chef.
“If it works, we’ll bring the idea to other stores,” Douglass said. “We’ve also started a remodel of all our restrooms. We intend to have the best, most modern restrooms of any chain in the country.”
There also a big new project in the works, but for now the details are not for publication.
Bill Douglass and his Grayson County operations are recognized all over the county for their contributions the convenience store industry. And based on the past experience, the best is yet to come.
Who could image that six convenience store in Texoma could impact the lives of thousands of people half a world away? Well, they do.
Aziz Hassan grew up in Pakistan. His father was in the Pakistani Air Force and wanted his son to follow the same career, but after high school and college the younger Hassan decided his future lay in the New World.
“Columbus discovered America,” his father said, “You can do more than that.” So Aziz decided “…to go to that place and discover a little bit more.”
He arrived in 1982 and settled in Salt Lake City. A couple of years later he was in Mansfield, working for Ramco, a company that made aircraft parts. He had already decided he wanted to own and run his own business, so when he found a convenience store for sale in Dension. He and a friend bought the operation, but the partnership did not work out and a year later Hassan assumed full control.
His Denison neighbor, Jim Brady, a retired air force officer and the father of former Denison Mayor Tom Brady, took a liking to the young entrepreneur and became his mentor. Hassan worked at the store, by himself often for 17 hours a day. His labors and frugal saving of money soon produced a second Sunshine store.
Now there are six.
Hassan married Mehfooz, a girl from his hometown, and their two daughters were born in Pakistan. Two sons, Amaud and Saad, were born in Denison. The turning point in Hassan’s life came while he and Mehfooz were in the stands at Munson Stadium watching Saad’s game as a Yellow Jacket, when he learned that 19-year-old Amaud had died while riding his new motorcycle along the twists and turn of the Old Ida Road between Sherman and Whitewright.
After her son’s death, Mehfooz returned to Pakistan for a while, and in time she and Hassan decided to honor their son by giving back what they had created in America to the people of their homeland. With the assistance of the Pakistani government, they identified a rural village where people had to walk more than three miles to find a potable water source.
To address the problem the Hassans’ financed the drilling of a water well and building storage tanks in the village. In a region where most clothing is made at home and by hand, the Hassans started a program to teach local women to operate hand-operated sewing machines, easing the make of clothes for the families, and enabling the seamstresses to take in outside work to add to the family income.
In their hometown of Jhelum, Aziz and Mehfooz opened a clinic, the Amaud Hassan Diagnostic Center, where people could come to need medical tests without charge. They soon added an MRI machine.
Today, Hassan, who sold two of the six Sunshine stores and added quick lube operation to the mix, is on the lookout for new locations.
“My daughters are both working at a hospital in Odessa,” he said during a recent conversation, “and my son is about to graduate from SMU.”
In faraway Pakistan, the people of one small village no longer have to carry water three miles out and back, thanks to a man who followed Christopher Columbus to America “…to discover just a little bit more.”