MASON CITY | Henry Pirhonen has been working in the Southport parking lot since 1972.
A lot has changed around Wooz's Car Wash since he started. But Wooz's continues to pump motorists' gas and offer car washes and details—all with the friendly customer service that has made it a staple in southern Mason City, despite multiple businesses opening and closing.
Now, Kwik Star has bought out Wooz's—and the sale will be finalized Friday morning, said Pirhonen, the owner of the gas station and car wash.
Pirhonen can recall specific details and facts about Wooz's quickly: he estimates about half a million cars have been washed since he took over. In the mid-1980s, they once washed 867 cars in one day.
"It was a KRIB promotion," Pirhonen said of that day. "They were parked up to the Sears till 10 o'clock in the morning to 4 o'clock in the afternoon."
In 1978, Wooz's sold Christmas trees outside, and was the largest Christmas tree seller in Mason City that year, Pirhonen said. Four years later, they installed a temporary photo hut, where customers could get their film developed.
And when it comes to Pirhonen's favorite part about owning a gas station and car wash for multiple decades, he answers without hesitation: the customers.
He added a lot of Wooz's success comes from talking to people, and actually seeing how well they are doing.
"A lot of people come here, and we play psychiatrists with them," he said. "See, he's up there, solving her problems."
Pirhonen was motioning to Jon McCorkle, who was talking to a customer pulled up at one of Wooz's gas pumps. McCorkle has worked with Pirhonen for 43 years.
His immediate response to what's changed since he started working at Wooz's?
"Fuel prices," McCorkle said with a laugh.
Like Pirhonen, he believes the secret to staying open for so long is customer service.
"Be yourself, be good to the customer," McCorkle said. "There's no challenge."
Both he and Pirhonen believe the addition of Kwik Star could help create more development in Southport, a area that sits nearly vacant—the only two businesses open other than Wooz's are the Driver License Center and the adjacent tobacco shop.
"As you can see, this place needs all the help it can get," McCorkle said.
Steve Wrobel, a spokesman for Kwik Star, said Monday afternoon the sale will be finalized Friday, but couldn't discuss any sale price.
Construction on the new store, after demolition of Wooz's, will start next spring. Most stores typically take about three months to build, Wrobel said.
He added the new store, including the car wash, will be about 10,000 square feet, and employ 25 to 30 people. Half of those will be full-time, and half part-time, Wrobel said.
"It seemed like the best available parcel on the south side of Mason City," he said. "Mason City is a pretty good size city… Mason City could easily have two or three Kwik Stars.
"We get a lot of requests to come to this market and we’re glad to be there."
Throughout a roughly 20-minute interview, Pirhonen offered stories about Wooz's past, but repeatedly said the most important aspect is to keep customers happy.
"The customers are great," he said. "We've probably pissed off 1 percent, so it's not bad."
For all of Wooz's customers that enjoyed the car wash and gas pumps, there's another person behind the scenes, playing a vital role. His wife, Nancy, is the bookkeeper.
"Without her, this place wouldn't be here," he said. "She's the backbone of this whole operation."