SIOUX CITY | Tim Tott has a routine when a customer pulls up to his garage and fueling station at Jones and 35th streets.

"I ask them what they want, but probably two-thirds of the customers, I know what they want," he said. "You know, I just put the nozzle in and start going, start washing their windows."

Most have been coming to Tott's Auto Center for years. It's one of the only full-service stations left.

"We try to stay relatively competitive, but it's pretty tough anymore," said Tott, taking a break between customers. "The Walmarts and Hy-Vees are pretty tough to battle."

Up until the 1960s, full-service stations like Tott's were the only option for motorists, with attendants running the pump, cleaning windshields and checking oil and tire pressure.

But then came skyrocketing fuel prices that made it difficult for independent, neighborhood stations to compete, and more reliable vehicles that didn't need constant maintenance.

Self-service pumps, which process debit and credit cards on site, save station owners money. Having one clerk is safer and more efficient. (An exception to the decline is Oregon and New Jersey, where state laws ban self-service pumps.) 

Up until about 15 years ago, Tott's business sold auto parts to full-service shops. But not anymore.

"There was one on every corner there for a while," he said. "South Sioux was just loaded. But they just slowly died out."

Don Best, of Best Auto Service at 4721 Morningside Ave. in Sioux City, said an aging customer base, people's desire for speed rather than service and the sagging economy all factored into the disappearance.

He stopped selling fuel at his full-service station about a month ago. The store is just across the street from a new Kum & Go.

"We just weren't selling the gas like we used to," said Best, whose sales also were impacted by fuel discounts offered by Hy-Vee stores. He hopes to refill tanks and resume full service by spring.

Tott said his business is supported by the mechanic's shop and a loyal customer base.

His father opened the shop in 1954. Although he worked there as a teen, Tott hadn't planned on making it into a career. It sort of just happened.

"There was five sons and I was the only one that was interested," Tott said. "And I just graduated, got married, and thought well, 'What the hell? I'll give it a whirl.' Been here for 39 years."

Norma Brotherson, 78, stopped in not long ago to get her car checked. She was driving to Wall Lake, Iowa, to visit the grave of her late husband, Gene. He worked at Tott's for 17 years before having a stroke.

"If I have something wrong with my car, I always come here," said Brotherson, of Sioux City.

Tott hopes happy customers like Brotherson will remain loyal customers, preserving his status as the last full-service station in the neighborhood.

"If we don't take care of the customers," he said, "somebody else will."

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