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If someone didn’t know Friday better while observing activities at a Brannock service center, they might have thought it was 1965–when motorists sat in their cars while a worker pumped gas and checked the oil.

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But no, a peek at the calendar revealed that it’s actually 2021. And the sight of a guy – Marty Brannock – providing really real friendly customer service and not a figment of the imagination reminds us of those good old days long gone.

“I saw you there cleaning the windshield and thought, ‘People don’t do that anymore,'” Agent Zack Blackmun Jr. told Brannock minutes later while they were standing inside the old business on West Lebanon Street across from Veterans Memorial Park.

Brannock couldn’t think of another full-service gas station in Mount Airy that offered this service, saying the closest he knew was in Carroll County, Virginia—a concept alien to a generation that grew up solely on self-service.

As of Monday, that community can no longer boast this distinction, due to the closure of Brannock’s Service Center Inc. As of July 5, according to a letter sent to its customers.

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“After 45 years in this place, retirement is near,” the text reads. “It has been our pleasure to serve you and Mount Airy City for such a long time.”

“I’m totally ready to go,” Brannock, 66, said Friday of the retirement decision that he and his wife, Donna, would include. They have been married for nearly 46 years, and I worked in the office at a Brannock service center for about 23 of those. The company was founded by the late Buck Brannock, Marty’s father.

However, some traces of the process will persist after its service station component fades into history.

Although the building itself will be empty, longtime Branock employee Jason Jarrell and his wife Robin will open the Branock’s Alignment and Service Center in a store next to the service station on July 19.

Also, the fuel pumps will still be running – but on a credit card-only basis 24/7, with no more friendly faces.

the end of the era

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This prospect had many clients expressing their grief on Friday when they stopped by to say goodbye to the Brannocks, which included little more than a few hugs.

I won’t cry, said Nancy Carothers, a longtime client from Westfield, whose feelings along those lines were still evident as she and Marty hugged warmly.

One quickly came up with the idea on Friday that it was not just the service aspect itself that had the appeal of the Brannock Service Center, but the personal touches it embodies.

“It’s great for me,” Carothers said of Marty Brannock, noting that she’s been sponsoring the business since 1998.

“You have a lot of people who depend on you,” Blackmon told Brannock.

Among them is Deborah Cochran, the former mayor of Mount Airy and a longtime radio personality who lives near the station.

“My car is over 20 years old, and they’ve serviced my cars for decades,” Cochran advised regarding the crew at Brannock, praising Marty’s “positive attitude” along with the full handling at the pumps.

“Everything from the inspections, the batteries, the tires, the brakes, the gas – they even come home and get in the cars,” Cochran added. “There is no information on how many people are left on the road, and I travel to Winston-Salem ten months each year.”

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Brannock said he relied on a simple philosophy in his interactions with clients. “I have always tried to give people the best advice and the best bang for the buck for their efforts,” he said of dealing with various auto issues.

It is a formula that has proven successful among people from near and far.

“We all love him,” Blackmon said of Brannock.

Along the same lines, customers don’t want to see him go.

“Everything seems to be changing these days,” Cochran said. “When Marty and Donna told me they were going to retire, I was in shock.”

“I paid my dues”

There have been many transformations in the business world over the years and in speaking with Marty Branock, one gets the impression that at some point people wish to escape the related stresses and simply enjoy life to the fullest.

The longtime station operator referred to his father in explaining this.

“It was my go-to,” Brannock said, and he could manage things whenever the son wanted to take a trip to the beach or attend a motorcycle rally.

“But when my dad died 15 years ago,” he said, “I carried the burden—but I enjoyed it.”

“I paid my dues and enjoyed everything I did.” Brannock says he is ready for a new adventure.

David Bell, another former city official — who served as a commissioner and chief of police in Mount Airy, as well as a Surrey County Court clerk — offered an optimistic view of the situation Friday when visiting Gass.

“First of all, I think the Brannock family’s history in the gas station industry is exceptional,” Bell said.

He seems to take comfort in the fact that there will be at least some semblance of work left due to the store next door that will operate under the Brannock name.

This would allow the couple to exist intact at the site on West Lebanon Street – at least symbolically, Bell believes.

“As far as I’m concerned, Donna and Marty will still be here.”

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