By Jana Allen

It was 1983, and Def Leppard walked into Joe’s Texaco in Norman, Oklahoma.

The band members entered the station, beers in hand, long hair in full 80’s style, looking the part of trouble waiting to happen, recalls Mike Smith.

At least, that’s how it looked to Smith’s father and the station owner, Joe Smith.

“My dad could be kind of a hard ass…so he told them they couldn’t drink that beer in there and they insisted they were going to drink that beer,” Smith said. “My dad pretty much just told ‘em to get out the door and somehow in the conversation it came up that they were Def Leppard… (My dad has) made fun of that band name ever since.”

This is one of Smith’s favorite stories to tell of his years working for his dad’s gas station.

Joe’s Texaco, more recently known as Sooner Stop, closed its doors for the last time on October 16 after being a Norman staple since 1977.

Joe Smith had been in the gas station owning business for a few years, and when the station on Main became available he sold the one he was at and went to the Texaco. From the time he bought it until 2001, Joe’s Texaco was a full-service gas station.

It was at this station that he and his children spent thousands of hours working and creating memories that would turn a gas station into something more special than anyone ever thought it could be.

***

Mike Smith started working summers at the station when he was just 12, working 30 hours a week at $1 per hour. 

“My dad is one of those that thinks you need to work about the time you can walk,” Smith said.

He continued to work summers until he was 16, and his hours and responsibilities steadily increased.

With countless memories of working at the station, both good and bad, Smith acknowledged that being part of a family business has its advantages and disadvantages for he and his siblings.

There was the convenience of being able to utilize the station for their car’s needs, and it wasn’t hard to take vacations since their father was the one making the schedule.

However, Smith said their dad was harder on he and his siblings than he would have been on a regular employee. 

“And if there was an issue at work, ‘course we went home and that issue was right there waiting on you,” Smith said. “But, for the most part it worked out well as a family… we had a whole lot more advantages than disadvantages.”

As a family-owned business, Sooner Stop and the Smith family left a mark on many members of the Norman community.

Mark Floyd was literally a lifetime customer, having been born the same year the Smith family bought the station. His family had gone to the station for gas and other services for as long as he could remember.

One of Floyd’s favorite memories of the station is one Joe never let him live down.

It was 1993, and Floyd had just recently gotten his driver’s license. On his way to school he stopped at the station for gas.

It was business as usual, and after his tank was full he drove off to school. It wasn’t until his friends in the parking lot told him to look at the side of his car that he noticed he had taken the gas nozzle and cord with him.

“From that day forward, that was from 93 till a month ago, anytime I filled up there it was ‘Mark, make sure to hang up your nozzle,’” Floyd said.

One thing the Smith family, and the few family friends who worked for the station, prided themselves on was having a completely different atmosphere than other convenience stores, said employee Kristi Watson.

“It was a family atmosphere,” Watson said. “We never made you feel like a customer when you came in there.”

Floyd would agree with this sentiment, saying “you don’t get quite the same deal” at corporate convenience stores.

“It was kind of like a ‘Cheers,’” Floyd said. “You wouldn’t just buy gas. You go inside and kind of shoot the breeze with them, that’s just how it’s always been my whole life in Norman.”

***

When most small businesses close, it’s because the business isn’t doing well enough to stay open.

For Sooner Stop, this wasn’t the case.

When the station made the switch from full-service to convenience store in 2001, from Joe’s Texaco to Sooner Stop (a Phillipp’s 66 station), there was also a shift in who was the “face” of the station.

It went from being Joe to his son Rodney, Smith said.

“Rodney was so friendly and jovial, the minute people got to know him they’d just keep coming in,” Smith said. “He was the type, even if he’s never seen you before, he’s going to talk to you pretty much the whole time. He’s not on the phone or looking at a computer, he’s very involved with his customers.”

Smith’s sister Staci McCathern said there were even customers that started calling it “Rodney’s”.

When Rodney passed away unexpectedly in 2017, it was a blow not only to his family but to those who had become accustomed to seeing his face behind the counter of their go-to gas station.

“A lot of customers came in distraught,” McCathern said.

McCathern recalls going up to the station just a few days after Rodney passed to do bookkeeping, it taking her about 15 minutes to actually get out of the car and walk in.

Not long after she was working in the back office, Kristi Watson, a family friend who had started filling in for Rodney, came to tell her that someone had asked for a member of Rodney’s family.

The woman ended up donating $100 for Rodney’s funeral, McCathern said.

Others didn’t hear about Rodney’s passing, so they would ask about him when they came in and saw that he wasn’t there.

“The hard part of them coming in asking about Rodney… was that it’s hard to say what happened,” McCathern said. “And I didn’t want mom and dad to be up there when they came to ask. In all honesty, (dad) just got to where he didn’t want to be there.”

McCathern and her brother both believe the station would have continued in business if it hadn’t been for Rodney’s passing.

“(Rodney) was just going to take over the station,” Smith said. “My dad was just going to step down, hand it to him. That was the original plan, that didn’t get to pan out. So that’s why he wound up selling it.”

The selling process took about a year, McCathern said, but finally Joe closed a deal.

It’s been extremely hard on the entire family to let go of the station, she said, especially because the buyers are planning to knock the building down to build an optometrist office.

“When we knew we had three weeks till it was going to close, (dad) kept saying it wasn’t, he got to where he couldn’t sleep,” McCathern said. “My mother said, ‘I can walk in here and I can just see Rodney walk around the corner. I walk in the door and I hear him say ‘Hi Mom.’’ That’s where the hard part of closing came.”

As a longtime customer and someone who considers the Smith’s like family, Floyd said it’s been hard to see the business go away, hard to see the station now gated off and preparing to be taken down.

“When you think of Norman… there are certain places that old Normanites think of,” Floyd said. “Joe’s is one of them. They’ve had an impact on my family, and many other families in this town. Not just a handful, but hundreds, if not thousands of people.”

Floyd is a business owner himself, having owned Downtown Fitness on West Lindsey for 16 years and gearing up to open a new business, Golden Rule Pawn which will be on Main and 24th. 

The pawn shop will be just down the street from where Sooner Stop was, and as a way to continue the station’s legacy Floyd bought all of their cabinets, casing and shelving to use in his new shop.

“I did it intentionally because I was like, ‘Hey, we’re going to kind of keep this going, we’re going to be just down the street, and we’re going to have a bunch of Joe’s Texaco stuff in our new place,” Floyd said. “Whether it’s in the warehouse, our showroom, we’re going to clean it up, make it look brand new, but Joe’s will continue through our place.”

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