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Gas station cleanup fuels speculation

By Staff | Apr 15, 2015

A gas station at Tarpon Bay and Periwinkle is undergoing refurbishing. No word on what’s next. CRAIG GARRETT

No word on the corner gas station that opened when fuel was 31 cents.

Exactly 50 years later the building at Tarpon Bay and Periwinkle is empty, its repair-shop owner’s lease expired. Workers buzz about, polishing clean its 8,000 gallon underground fuel tanks, the hydraulic repair lifts removed and the ground cleansed. County inspectors are regulars. Drivers still pull to the station’s fuel pumps, baffled by their absence and motoring away confused.

The building’s owners in December opted in another direction, said Richard Johnson. Richard and Mead Johnson own the Bailey’s shopping complex sitting on about seven paved acres. The gas station is part of the domain. Mead Johnson is the daughter of Francis Bailey, son of the store’s founder. The Johnsons purchased the small empire from Mr. Bailey’s estate.

“Mead and I decided we won’t continue in that line of business (gas station),” Richard Johnson said. “We’re cleaning and sanitizing the building, taking our time, doing it right. We want a clean bill of health.”

But a clean bill of health for what?

“It is being repurposed as a business that will provide a benefit to our community,” was all Richard Johnson would share.

What’s clear is that the Johnsons and the corner commonwealth they operate is undergoing a shift in look and services. Aside from refurbishing the gas station, the Bailey’s Center has welcomed a health-food cafe, a pizzeria, a women’s boutique, and a bike-rental service. The 13 merchants are part of the Bailey’s grocery complex that includes a corner restaurant, a yogurt shop, a movie theater, a men’s barbershop, travel and cleaning services. There’s also worker housing behind the center.

Bailey’s has also muscled up its inventory in organic, healthy choices and services. The Johnsons have also reshaped the store’s interior, streamlining checkout, for instance. There’s even a new mini-Bailey’s at the Sundial resort, which Johnson said is booming, and Bailey’s has opened a catering arm. Richard Johnson serves trays at many of the catering firm’s functions, particularly nonprofit benefits.

An unquestioned hard worker and affirmed city booster, Richard Johnson has big plans for his family’s business.

“I envision what was the town center, becoming the new town center,” Johnson said a couple of months ago, referencing that the Bailey’s store had long served the island with a Western Union dispatch, its first phone service, a command center in disasters and in other capacities dating to 1899. Frank Bailey opened his first store on San Carlos Bay in the days a grocery store served as the communications hub, where many learned the news of the day, where the Santiva mailboat docked on her route between the mainland and the islands.