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Central Standard

Why We Love Our Gas Stations In Kansas City

Cody Newill
KCUR 89.3

Gas stations are normally supposed to blend into a city. They don’t appear in skylines, they rarely make headlines, and they typically aren’t the landmarks of any city. Usually, going to a gas station is chore, something you do quickly and without thinking too hard.

But in Kansas City, many have strong emotional attachments to their local gas stations and convenience stores.

One of those people is Brooke from Hyde Park. She called into KCUR’s Central Standard and told guest host Matthew Long-Middleton about the 7-Eleven near where she lives. She says she has felt a strong sense of community at the convenience store ever since a store clerk did her a favor a few years after she moved into the neighborhood.

“He had seen that I had ripped my purse that night and he actually took it from me,” Brooke said. “And the next time I went in there, he had sewn it back together. And I gave him a little handmade gift for his birthday.”

Peter Max Lawrence grew up in Wyandotte County, and he said he has very fond memories of going to QuikTrip gas stations as a child.

“My brother and the neighborhood gang would walk the two mile hike to go get snacks,” Lawrence said via email. “Every time I roll through KC I make an extra effort to stop at a QuikTrip, especially the ones I’m emotionally connected to.”

But of all places, how did gas stations become places that KC natives have grown to love?

Shannon Jackson, an anthropology professor at University of Missouri-Kansas City, says that people have the capacity to make a community anywhere, but that gas stations have some unexpected advantages.

“There are ways we calibrate or calculate what makes a good place, and one of those defining features is going to be flexibility of use,” Jackson said. “So if something is purpose-built and can only be used for that purpose, it limits our ability to make place out of it.”

Places that people love the most, Jackson said, are ones that inspire unpredictable and surprising interactions with others. Going to your local gas station has plenty of potential for those kinds of interactions, because everyone in the neighborhood goes there and you never know who you might run into.

Brooke, the caller from Hyde Park who frequents her local 7-Eleven, says something similar about what makes her corner store so special. She says that going into a 7-Eleven in a neighborhood as popular as Hyde Park turns every trip to the store into a chance for something more.

“I think, maybe, more urban area gas stations are a little bit more communal because you have more people that are riding bicycles or walking that aren’t necessarily going from here to there a lot more quickly,” she said.

“That kind of contributes to having more time to just talk and chat.”

Aaron Pellish is a digital intern for KCUR 89.3.