Almanac

News - November 10, 2010

Portola Valley: Back to the future for gas station

• Ron Ramies reclaims Portola Valley Fuel.

by Dave Boyce

It was eight months ago that Portola Valley native Ron Ramies sold Portola Valley Fuel, the independent gas station and auto repair shop near the town's principal intersection at Portola and Alpine roads.

"It felt like eight years," Mr. Ramies said recently. After selling the operation, he had asked himself the dreaded question: "Oh my God, what did I do?" he said. "It hit me like a ton of bricks. Everything that I did, selling that business, was emotional. I think I needed to do that to learn about myself."

He may now find out what he learned. On Oct. 26, Mr. Ramies signed the papers to reclaim his station and shop from Woodside resident Dieter Mees, a Porsche-trained mechanic who bought the operation in February.

Mr. Mees, who is "very good on Porsche and Mercedes," will continue to be available for repairing older models, Mr. Ramies said.

Mr. Ramies was never far from home. He rents a cottage in Woodside and aside from a few weeks in Italy, he's been working in his vehicle fabrication shop in San Carlos. Friends would call to say how much they missed his presence in Portola Valley, he said.

"I'm at peace," Mr. Ramies said after his purchase. "I've been overwhelmed by people coming by."

Once things settle down, there may be some changes at the station. A few ideas Mr. Ramies said he is tossing around: a coffee cart, free ice cream on Fridays for kids who walk or ride their bikes to school, wine tasting, and car detailing and washing.

Diesel customers could possibly have bio-diesel, dogs would have biscuits, and everything will be as green as possible, he said.

The first free ice cream event is set for the afternoon of Friday, Nov. 19, in the back of the station, Mr. Ramies said.

"It's a second chance to do better," he said. "I sometimes think about all the things I disengaged from. (Portola Valley) is a one-of-a-kind place. I know now that I would enjoy myself more with this community."

Residents comment

"I'm thrilled," said Danna Breen, who lives up the road and was a not-infrequent customer. "When he left, it felt like your physician is retiring or something. You're left feeling all alone."

Angela Siddall, a resident and customer for about 10 years, recalled the recent experience of having had a flat tire in Mountain View. She drove to Portola Valley on a refill of air and stopped by the station, where Mr. Ramies happened to be, and had her tire repaired with a plug and refilled, all in four minutes and all at no charge.

"As a single woman, you need a place you can count on," Ms. Siddall told The Almanac. "They do whatever's necessary to get me rolling."

Ms. Breen, a member of the town's architecture review panel, expressed concern about support for local businesses to keep them vital. She has some comfort about this one. "Ron grew up here," she said. "I think it will be secure, that the garage will stay there during his lifetime."

A womanly place

Mr. Ramies' three daughters are all interested in the business, he said. "We didn't know how good we had it," his oldest daughter Diana said at one point, Mr. Ramies recalled.

Diana is training as a paramedic and firefighter and has designed a set of women's tools, colored pink, Mr. Ramies said. She is also handy with a welding torch.

Megan, the middle daughter, recently graduated from a Notre Dame de Namur business program and is interested in maintaining the books for the station and the shop, Mr. Ramies said.

Brianna, a sophomore at Woodside High School and a varsity basketball player, has pumped gas and cleaned car windows at the station, Mr. Ramies said.

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