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Rent Hike Forces Wicker Park Gas Station To Close After 40 Years

By Alisa Hauser | August 29, 2017 9:37am | Updated on August 29, 2017 1:11pm
 Gomez Shell Gas station is closing on Oct. 30, 2017.
Gomez Shell Gas Station
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WICKER PARK — A mom-and-pop gas station that has been at Damen Avenue and Division Street in Wicker Park since 1977 will close on Oct. 30.

Gaspar Gomez, owner of the Gomez Shell service station at 1950 W. Division St., said on Monday that he and his wife, Esther Gomez, will be closing their family-run station because of a rent increase.

"The reason we are closing is because we lost our lease. We tried to have some kind of negotiating, but we can't do it anymore. The rent is too high. It will be $25,000 a month," Gomez said.

Currently, Gomez said he pays a monthly rent of $9,000 and the $16,000 increase was too much.

Plus, next year he'll turn 80.

"We're looking forward to relaxing, having a nice time, to traveling. I will miss it, of course. I miss taking care of my customers, but what can I do? I can't afford to be here," he said, adding that no other Shell franchisee wanted to take over the station with the huge rent increase.

In his retirement, Gomez, who works six days a week at the station, said he also plans to help out his daughters at their shop, Dynamic Salon & Spa, 1501 W. Chicago Ave.

On Oct. 30, 2012, the gas station site was sold by Gomez's previous landlord to new owners for $2.5 million. Paul Utigard of Newgard Development bought the land where the gas station is located, county records show. 

Utigard and his business partner, Rob Buono, are prolific real estate developers who've built several apartment buildings anchored by retail and restaurants throughout the city, including an 11-story, 99-unit tower just up the street from the gas station, at 1611 W. Division St.

Buono and Utigard did not return a call requesting comment about the future of the corner. 

First Ward Ald. Joe Moreno described the Gomez family as "true community leaders in business and philanthropy."

"They will be sorely missed. Any new development at this corner will need to go through a thorough review by the community," Moreno said.

Gomez said that his landlord wants to build an apartment building at the corner, anchored by restaurants.

Jon Gorske, co-owner of Velvet Goldmine, a vintage home furnishings shop across from the gas station, said that bringing apartments and restaurants to the gas station site would return the site to something similar to what it had been several decades ago. In the late 1960s and 1970s, there was a large vintage apartment building anchored by a snack shop at the corner, he said. 

Gorske said he will miss the Gomez couple.

"I am sad to see them go. Very nice folks. We regularly go there for snacks and gasoline," Gorske said.

On Monday afternoon, Freddy Birts was buying a package of Doritos at the Shell station.

"It sucks. It's always been a gas station since I've been here," Birts said.

At one point, Gomez, who entered the gas station industry in 1967, owned four Shells stations in Wicker Park and West Town. The 1950 W. Division St. location is his last remaining station.

"It's bittersweet. I'll miss it," Gomez said.

Gomez Shell Station at 1950 W. Division St. is closing on Oct. 30. [DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]