Space Age owner details expansion
Last updated 3/1/2023 at Noon
“No, it is not a truck stop.”
When asked by The Nugget what he’d like folks in Sisters to know about the expanded Space Age fueling station on West Cascade, that’s one of the things Jim Pliska emphasized. Pliska, along with his father, Harold, are the principal owners of the 21-station chain started in 1982 and headquartered near Portland.
The Pliskas’ expansion plan has fueled vociferous opposition from some locals, led by a fledgling ad hoc group known as CATS — Citizens Action Team of Sisters. Six of the group made brief statements at last Wednesday’s regularly scheduled City Council meeting, each attacking the expansion from a different angle.
Sharon Booth stood opposed on the basis of fumes, telling The Nugget, “I spoke about the health concerns. Given my background in medicine, I was especially interested in this aspect. I was able to find a few relevant medical journal articles and plan to continue to research this subject.”
Others expressed worries about lighting, traffic, and the impact on other Sisters businesses. Mark Dickens, a CATS member, said, “Part of a reason of a company to build out at this scale is to put the competition out of business.”
Pliska scoffs at this idea. He’s already historically the lowest-priced seller in town among the four fuel stations. On Saturday, February 25, Space Age was selling a gallon of regular for $3.85. Mainline Chevron was at $3.99, Sinclair — closest in distance to Space Age — was $3.89, and 76 at the east portal was $4.19.
According to Pliska the main driver of the expanded station, which will increase its dispensers (hoses) from six to 16, is not what’s happening in Sisters, but in Bend and Redmond. On Saturday you could fill up in Redmond for $3.22 a gallon.
“Our station in Sisters is marginal,” Jim Pliska said. “People in Sisters who work in Bend or Redmond drive right past us, and if somebody is going to Bend or Redmond to shop, they’ll time their trip to arrive close to empty and fill up there. We lose a lot of business this way, not to the other stations in town, where we are already the lowest price.”
Pete and Gloria Thompson seemed to prove Pliska’s claim when we talked with them at Space Age last Thursday. They were getting $5 of gas, just enough to get them to Bend when making their biweekly Costco run, where they would refuel at Arco for $3.39 — 46 cents per gallon less, saving them “about $7 we reckon.” Pliska’s Bend station sells a gallon for $3.45.
It’s all in the cost of fuel transport and station tank storage. It’s another 40 miles and an hour in labor to refill the underground tanks in Sisters.
“We’re a business and we’re discounters,” Pliska said. “Like any business we’re looking for efficiency, a way to drive down our costs.”
Pliska assumes that the higher costs of his competitors’ stations in Sisters is in part their having to pay for use of the national brand name, e.g., Chevron. And he suggests that their business model is to sell less fuel at higher margin, whereas his is to sell more for less. The Pliskas own the Space Age brand name and logo.
Most of the opposition seems to be centered around the more than doubling of pumps. However, there is also vocal and growing opposition to the new 3,500-square-foot general store that will be built to replace the existing 1,700-square-foot store, which is cramped and outdated.
The new store will be located behind the current one and overtake the space occupied by Richard’s Farmstand and C&C Nursery, seasonal tenants who sublet on a month-to-month basis. Richard’s Produce has been a fixture for 22 years and C&C for 14. Both businesses enjoy good reputations and loyal customers.
Chad Stadeli, who, with wife, Cathy, owns C&C told The Nugget that he knew it was only a matter of time before Space Age would embark on a major upgrade and they’d be forced to vacate. Not only is Stadeli not opposed to the expansion, he thinks it makes sense, and will end up being good for Sisters.
“The store now is not very attractive and is showing its age,” he said. “Not sure they need that many pumps, but overall it will be a good improvement, and make for nice entry into downtown.”
Like the Stadelis, Rich Greene and wife, Caroline Lucas, spoke well of Pliska, saying they were always treated fairly and in a straightforward manner. Greene, who will be 80 in a month and who has an aching back, is worried about the future, however.
“We need the income from the business and we’re really not in a position to give it up,” he said. “This is not how I imagined the end of it.”
Both tenants are in discussion for new sites.
Pliska thinks the tenants will be able to have another year if they want, as there is still considerable time before all the approvals are met and site prep is completed. Assuming that the plan makes it through the approval process, the store would be built first, the old one then torn down, after which the station would be closed for three to six months as the new islands, tanks, paving, and canopy are installed.
The upgraded station would also be readied for three to four rapid EV chargers for deployment at a later date.
Pliska is optimistic that the community will welcome the new station eventually.
“I think when people see it and realize the additional jobs we’ll add, they’ll be persuaded,” he said.