Bad ending comes to a Lake Oswego institution
Mark's service station no longer sells gas
On the bright side, Mark Jacobson hasn't lost a dime. But the trouble is, the gas tanks are empty. And these days, well, gas just doesn't come cheap.
So for customers of Mark's Old Fashioned Service Station in Lake Oswego, the pumps have run dry.
They can blame a deal with a car salesman who is now the subject of a widespread police investigation. When he left town, he took Mark's with him.
It's a bad end to a business that, for 48 years, has been something of a Lake Oswego institution.
But Jacobson, 67, was ready to call it quits running the tiny service station at the intersection of State Street and B Avenue. And looking toward retirement, he leased it to Charles Seaman, co-owner of Oswego Luxury, a high-end car delearship just a few doors down.
Seaman wanted a place to gas up his cars and do safety checks, Jacobson said. His plan was to keep Mark's Old Fashioned Service Station in business.
But after taking over the station, Seaman let the vendors go unpaid and the debts began to mount, Jacobson said. The station kept running out of gas. And Jacobson, who was working limited hours to help the business transition, began spending more time trying to keep it afloat than he ever had.
'In seven months, he ran it into the ground,' Jacobson said.
Since then, Seaman has been arrested on seven counts of unlawful consignment practices and become the subject of a police investigation that involves 28 active cases and more than 40 alleged victims.
All say they bought or sold cars through Oswego Luxury and got scammed. Some say they sold cars through Seaman and were never paid. Others report buying cars but never receiving their titles.
Seaman told police he's simply a bad businessman who got terribly behind in his debts.
But whatever the reason, dozens of cars are now caught up in disputes. Police say half a million dollars in car sales are unaccounted for. And Mark Jacobson is paying a very personal price.
The business his father began in 1960 is now defunct. With the gas tanks empty and gas priced at about $40,000 a tank, Jacobson said he won't be getting into the business again.
Instead, he spends a few hours a day inside the garage on weekdays, fixing and maintaining cars, waiting to either sell the station or lease it to someone else.
'It would cost me $80,000 to get back in and I'd be working 10 to 12 hours a day and I'm too old for that,' he said.
'My wife wants to do more things. We're getting older and we don't know how much time we have.'
A sad end
Used to be, this was the place for a young man.
Back when the station was called Lake Texaco, Jacobson was barely out of high school and possessed by an incurable love for fast-pitch softball.
After a stint driving cabs and another working for a contractor, Jacobson began running the gas station with his father, Larry Jacobson, who bought it in 1960. The two of them liked sharing the work. It gave them the opportunity to take time off, which both liked to do.
Between 1974 and 1986, Lake Texaco sponsored a fast-pitch softball team that had Jacobson spending much of his time traveling for games. He also showed cars, touring in the 1960s and 1970s with a 1937 Ford.
But softball slowed down and so did the car shows. Jacobson's father left the business in 1990 and Jacobson stayed on.
He changed the name to Mark's Service Station in 1998 after Texaco changed its franchise arrangements. And since then, Mark's has become one of the last independently owned gas stations in Oregon and a Lake Oswego icon.
Known for his old-fashioned style and the attention he paid customers, Jacobson checked the oil while filling up cars, even washed the windows. Cars needing repairs would be picked up for services and dropped off when fixed.
Some customers still drive by Mark's and honk the horn. They wave as they pass, looking for a sign that Mark's is back. Many stop by and ask whether Jacobson will start pumping their gas again.
But that day is gone.
'I'm a little sad for the customers who would still like to buy gas and some have been with me a long, long time,' said Jacobson.
His oldest customer died just a few weeks ago, he said. He had been pumping her gas since 1963.
In some ways, things turned out all right.
While Jacobson said vendors that stocked the gas station are owed more than $100,000 by Seaman, Jacobson didn't lose any money of his own.
During the lease, he got to take a few vacations, one of them to Mexico. And he's still doing a good business repairing cars, surprised by the amount of jobs he's been getting.
But tough questions about what went wrong with his business and others are now in the hands of the Lake Oswego Police.
Detective Bob Lee has been sifting through cases involving Oswego Luxury since Seaman's arrest July 2.
The dealership went out of business July 30 when state officials revoked Seaman's license to sell cars. It had been doing so only 17 months but officials at the Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services Division already heard their fill of complaints.
Now, dozens of related problems involve BMWs, Mercedes, Acuras, Smart Cars, Porsches, Range Rovers, Land Rovers and Lexuses, some sold on the Internet and others out of Oswego Luxury's storefront on State Street.
Lee has traced money through 13 bank accounts to learn whether Seaman is responsible for any crimes or was simply 'robbing Peter to pay Paul,' he said.
He does not believe that Tom Capps, co-owner of Oswego Luxury, was involved with problems with the business.
And he plans to leave it to the courts to settle disputes with the long line of creditors now anxious for money.
Jacobson said those creditors include battery shops, tire stores, parts stores, uniform dealers and other service providers affiliated with Mark's Service Station.
But they don't include him.
On the bright side, Mark Jacobson hasn't lost a dime.