Service center

Closure of Washburn Automotive Service Center; long-time worker moves to Darrell

One of the last icons of a bygone era can be found at 2236 SW Washburn Ave., next to Shunga Park.

Washburn Auto Service Center – still promoting full-service gasoline to the end, a beacon of nostalgia in an otherwise self-automated world – closed its doors this week.

The man behind this service is Kelly Binkley, who has been a loyal employee of the company since he began working there as a student at Washburn University in 1980. Initially owned by Binkley’s uncle , Gerald Binkley, and known as Binkley’s Service Center, the company first opened in 1961 at SW 21st and Buchanan.

“My uncle was my greatest mentor,” Binkley said. “He taught me ownership, leadership and giving back to the community. “

The company moved to its current location the same year Kelly started working there. Gerald Binkley retired in 1999, selling the station to brothers who ran it as Burnett Automotive until 2005 when it was bought by Big O Tires.

Kelly has seen the business go through countless ownership transitions, market fluctuations, and seasons, working 50 to 80 hours per week, networking and building relationships for nearly 42 years.

“I try to make everyone feel like part of the family,” Binkley said. “It’s a very diverse business because of our location. We get some of the richest and some of the poorest in Topeka, and I treat them all the same. “

The station brought the introduction to the woman

Kelly’s most important relationship in life also began at the train station, when he met his wife, Kim.

“I knew straight away that she was in love with me,” he jokes.

Kelly met Kim when she pulled up to the full service point on her gas island. He ran to greet her and said he was immediately infatuated. At the time, the station was affiliated with the Phillips Co., and Kim handed Kelly her gas card before she left and left it behind.

Kelly called Phillips Co. to get Kim’s address so he could return her card to her and learned that she lived in the Potwin neighborhood of Topeka.

“I made up a story about knowing one of his cousins ​​so I could talk to him,” he said.

His plan worked. Kelly and Kim Binkley have been married for 37 years and have two daughters and two grandchildren.

The station became a home-away-from-home for Binkley’s daughters Sarah and Megan, a place where they hung their photos and school artwork for the whole world to see while their father kept the business running.

It's all part of a day's work for Kelly Binkley as he calls a customer's total at the Washburn auto service center.  Binkley's routine of refueling, wiping car windshields and serving other customer needs has been fostered for more than 40 years at the company.

Days spent multitasking and putting customers first

A typical day included opening and closing, paperwork, hiring and training new employees, inventory and orders, taking care of customers, managing the convenience store and gas island. , and selling tires and vehicle services as needed or making recommendations for repair work.

Binkley says multitasking was the key to keeping things afloat.

“I worked up to 80 hours a week because we had no help. We ran a pretty small team most of the time, ”said Binkley. “I wasn’t planning on being in this business as long as I did.”

Automotive service is in Binkley’s genes. His grandfather owned a gas station in Nortonville and another uncle had a place at SW 29th and Fairlawn in Topeka. This kind of longevity in the same industry has made Binkley a well-known figure in the community.

He serviced local politicians’ vehicles and spoke sports with former Washburn men’s basketball coach Bob Chipman.

According to his daughter Megan, Binkley has taught younger generations how to maintain their vehicles, as well as the art of customer service, and has been in touch with people of all demographics and walks of life over the years. They bring him lunch and Christmas cookies and recognize him all over town.

“I have met so many great people who have been so great and given me so many gifts,” Binkley said. “It helped me build myself as a person. I learned to read people, to resist adversity and change. I received more than what I gave.

When the station last changed ownership in 2011, the Binkleys considered buying the business, but ultimately declined the offer. The service center was scheduled to close on Tuesday, days before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Binkley said he was told a combination of factors caused the shutdown, including rental issues, changes to underground fuel storage regulations and difficulties in staffing the company over the years. last six months.

A move in Darrell’s service

Since Binkley planned to work a few more years before retiring, he will end his career with Darrell’s Service at SW 21st and Gage, where he and owner Kevin Colhouer have known each other for three decades. Binkley said he looks forward to seeing the familiar faces of customers who have trusted him with their vehicles over the years.

“It will be a compliment to see them,” Binkley said. “When someone comes back it’s the biggest compliment I can have. If you treat people right, they will come back.