By Debra Smith Herald Writer
EVERETT — Inside a nondescript warehouse on Everett’s waterfront is a fast-growing business called Vic’s 66 that sells an America long gone.
Step inside and find unrestored gas pumps from an era when gas cost 29 cents a gallon and an attendant would clean your windshield and check the oil.
Aficionados would call much of what’s sold at Vic’s Petroliana, in laymen’s terms, collectibles related to gas stations.
“It takes you back to a time when life was more simple, back to the ’50s when people were into hot rods and rock ‘n’ roll,” said Lynn Nelson, who co-owns the business with her husband, Don Beaver.
Shelves are stacked high with all the parts for do-it-yourselfers to make that 1930s gas pump shine like the top of the Chrysler building.
For the less ambitious, Vic’s offers an array of retro decor collectibles to pimp out the man cave: bar stools, reproduction oil cans and signs, soda coolers and even jukeboxes.
While Vic’s 66 does restore some gas pumps, the business is more about serving people who like to do the restoration themselves.
In the world of Petroliana collectors, Vic’s 66 in Everett is one of the top places worldwide to shop, said customer Myron Herman, of Monroe.
Herman orders his parts from Vic’s and likes to wander around the Everett warehouse.
He started restoring old gas pumps two decades ago, and now people pay thousands of dollars to buy his refurbished pumps at swap meets.
“This hobby has really caught on,” he said. “You get the dotcom-ers, the guys from the car clubs and a lot of Canadians.”
The Bowser Co. in Fort Wayne, Indiana, built the first gas pumps in the 1880s, according to “Collectors Weekly.” By 1898, pumps could pull fuel from an underground tank.
Gas stations sprang up as automobiles became more popular in the 1920s. Gas pumps became an important promotional medium for companies. Lighted gas pump globes helped draw motorists in the early days of automobile travel.
Early pumps, called “visible gas” pumps, had a clear glass cylinder that allowed customers to see that the gas wasn’t dirty and that they were getting what they paid for.
Later, gas pumps had clock faces that kept track of the gallons. Pumps with clock faces are considered more valuable, Nelson said.
Some of the most popular retro gas pumps are those from the 1930s that have Art Deco styling, Nelson said. Baby boomers also are drawn to the rounded electric pumps of the “Happy Days” era.
Any nostalgia associated with gas pump styling evaporated in the late 1950s when manufacturers ditched the sexy curves and went square.
Beaver got into old gas pumps a few decades ago when he went duck hunting and, instead of a bird, brought home an abandoned gas pump he found.
A mechanic, he started buying and selling parts and pumps on eBay in 1998 and later operated the fledging pump business out of the same building as his automotive repair shop, Emerald City Auto Repair, in Seattle.
When the economy tanked, something unexpected happen.
Beaver and Nelson watched the automotive repair business decline — car repairs are something they thought customers couldn’t put off, even in a recession. The gas pump business took off.
The business relocated to Everett a few years ago and the owners bought out the owner of the original Vic’s 66 in Oklahoma, taking the name and his inventory.
Beaver and Nelson said Vic’s continues to grow, despite the lousy economy. Many of their best customers aren’t even American.
The majority of sales are online, with purchases shipped as far away as China, Japan, the Philippines, Australia, Brazil and Thailand. They sell many products to another dealer in Switzerland, who caters to Europeans who want a bit of Americana.
Vic’s has also supplied commercial businesses, such as themed restaurants.
Many of their unrestored pumps and parts have ended up on the antique restoration show “American Restoration” with Rick Dale on the History Channel.
The owners don’t mind if you stop by and wander a little bit. But it is a working warehouse, not a traditional retail shop.
Debra Smith: 425-339-3197; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vic’s 66 is hosting a Nostalgia Swap Meet and Car Show on Sunday beginning at 8 a.m. at the Triple XXX Drive-In, 98 N.E. Gilman Blvd., Issaquah.
Vic’s 66 is located at 2902 W. Marine View Drive in Everett. Contact the store at 206-381-3500 or go to its website at www.vics66.com.