Kittery's Sea Gull Diner closes its doors
1/2/08
KITTERY, Maine — Another area landmark is closing.
Last Friday, the Sea Gull Diner, part of Howell's Truck Stop on the Route 1 Bypass, closed, and later this month, the truck stop itself will be taken over by Irving Oil.
"We talked it over and I feel this is the right decision for my family," said Jim Howell. "It's a good thing, but it's tough to do."

That's because Howell and his family have operated the truck stop since 1954. Back then, the Bypass was Interstate 95 and the high-level bridge had not been constructed.
While Irving will continue to supply the services truckers need and will expand the stop from its current 4 acres to the full 11 acres the Howells own, the loss of the diner is what saddens the Howells and the many truckers, snowbirds and others who have eaten there over the years.
"There are a lot of sad people and truckers," said long-haul driver Larry Haskell, who lives about an hour north of the Kittery stop. "It's like a home away from home."
Haskell voiced concerns that when Irving takes over the truck stop, the oil company will tear down the existing structure and start serving fast food, rather than the home-cooked meals available now.
"Guys like to come in and sit down at the counter where everybody knows who you are," he said.

In fact, Irving plans to do that very thing, Howell said. However, he made it clear that he sought out Irving as a buyer for his property based on more than the price the oil company was willing to pay for this prime piece of Bypass property.
"We weren't just interested in the money," Howell said. "Irving, through the investment it plans to make in the property — the types of improvements — and its community programs, will be a good neighbor in Kittery."
With costs rising and improvements needed, Howell and his family decided to sell the operation to Irving. Those costs involved employee benefits; the need to replace underground gasoline tanks which cost $10,000 each to replace in the early 1980s, but now cost $45,000 per tank; and the industry's reliance on electronic transactions such as the ability to pay at the pumps.
"That's 5 to 7 cents per gallon," Howell said. "Banks are making more on gas than any independent station operator."
Most of the employees at Howell's will continue working at the truck stop as employees of Irving. Only four or five full-time people, most of whom worked in the diner, will be let go, he said.

Despite all the positives involved in the sale, Howell said he loves owning his own business, and will miss the truck stop and the people he worked with.
"It's the right decision with the oil companies getting back into the truck stop business, but I'm the independent type and I feel I had to say something I never like to say — I had to say 'uncle,'" Howell said.
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