Lavis Conoco for sale after 67-year run

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Lavis “Jay” Bourg Jr., owner of the iconic red and white Lavis Conoco, is hanging up his fuel nozzle for good.

The 67-year-old businessman, who many locals have come to know and trust when it comes to caring for their vehicles, is retiring and selling the old Conoco gas station at the intersection of Barrow and School streets.

Bourg said he plans to move to Arkansas where his son lives after the sale is finalized.

“I guess I’m kind of tired,” he said, explaining the tough decision to close the family business. “I’ve been doing this off-and-on since I was 9 years old.”

There are potential buyers who’ve expressed interest in taking over the Lavis station, each of whom have said they intend to keep the station as is – employees and all.

Lavis Conoco’s service philosophy reflects those of a by-gone era.

Not only do customers who need gas get full-service treatment when at the shop, but Bourg offers his customers individualized

services. Bourg picks up customers or just their vehicles to bring

them to the shop to be serviced. If customers call from the side of

the road, Bourg will meet them there. Bourg will pick up a tire the road, Bourg will meet

them there. Bourg will pick up a tire for service and return it to wherever the customer is. There is also a mechanic’s shop where repairs are made.

“We pick up cars at the hospital for some of the doctors and bring them here and clean them up and bring them back,” Bourg said.

Though he admits that his business one of the few left.

“It’s something you probably won’t see in the future,” Bourg lamented. “Eventually, it’s going to be gone. But I just enjoy doing it.”

Kristi Olsen is a regular customer of Bourg’s who said she is sad to see him go. She said there have been many times where Mr. Bourg dropped her off at home while her car was serviced.

“It’s good customer service,” Olsen said as she waited for Bourg to diagnose why her tire had gone flat twice in two days. “You don’t get that anywhere anymore.”

Olsen, who commutes to work in Metairie every day and relies on Lavis Conoco’s service to dependably get to and fro, said she hopes the new owner commits to offer those services tailored to the needs of the gas station’s customers.

Bourg discovered the culprit, by the way.

“It was a screw,” Bourg told Olsen, holding the fastener up so everyone could see.

State Representative and Terrebonne Parish President candidate Gordon Dove said he’s been a loyal customer of Lavis Conoco for 42 years.

Dove said he came into the station that day for “gas and air and a little local talk.”

The gas station was built by Conoco in 1941.

Jake Walker was walking down the street during construction and stopped to ask if they were hiring. Conoco hired Walker to manage the gas station, which he did until he bought the station in the late ‘50s or early ‘60s.

He then operated the Conoco gas station as his own until 1973, when he offered to sell it to Lavis Bourg, Sr.

Lavis Sr. originally started in the gas station business in 1957 when he opened the ‘63 Texaco’ that was located on Barrow Street next to where New York Bagel Cafe & Deli is now.

In the early ‘60s, Lavis Sr. moved from that location to a gas station on Main Street, across the street from where Terrebonne General Medical Center is located.

Lavis Sr. actually owned that building and stayed there until Walker offered to sell him the Conoco station in 1973. Lavis Sr. bought the Conoco station and leased the gas station on Main Street to his nephew Ralph Boudreaux. When the twin span bridges were built over the Intracoastal Waterway, the state bought Lavis Sr. out.

“Daddy had me there at 9 years old sweeping out cars, cleaning windshields and washing cars,” said Lavis Jr., the second generation of his family to operate the gas station and repair shop.

For Lavis Sr., who died in 2003 at the age of 75, caring for and fueling up the vehicles of Houma area drivers was a labor of love.

Although Jay came to work full-time later in his life – he had worked in the oilfield for 16 years – operating the station has become a labor of love as well. From the days of boyhood, Jay retains fond memories of the station’s worth to his dad.

“It was awesome to watch him work,” Jay said. “He knew what he was doing. I’d watch him repack front wheel bearings, do oil changes.”

Harley Bergeron, a cousin who has worked in the family business for 40 years, said there are unique aspects to the operation that make him proud to be a part of it all.

“We have regular customers, doctors and lawyers and older people, they think a lot of us,” Harley said. “They come here for the service and to shoot the breeze, too.”

For Bourg, the focus on service is what has kept the company successful.

“We always gave our people the service they wanted,” Bourg said. “If they broke down we would check them out and work on it, go jump a car off if they needed it, we would do that. We still do service on the road.”

Gasoline at Lavis costs a little more than at most gas stations, in part that is because it is a full-service operation, meaning the gas gets pumped for you. They also check your oil and other car fluids, as well as tire pressure if you would like them to. The old-fashioned full-service touch is offered by very few gas stations locally and throughout the nation, a victim of changing times as well as a desire quick in-and-out fueling and a demand for the lowest prices possible.

But enough customers want what Lavis gives to keep the operation going, said Jay.

“We have loyal customers been with us years,” he explains. “Our gas is more expensive. But they want the service, want the windshield washed and cleaned up or, if they need work on the car, to just drop it off and let us take it from there for them. Also, customers like to be talked to and to know they matter.”

The station is only open five days a week, but restricting hours is one way the small business can ensure that it can remain going over the long haul. Jay says, at this point, he couldn’t imagine doing anything else for a living.

“I love doing this, this is my thing,” he said. “I enjoy talking to the people, seeing the people come in. You start every morning looking forward to customers coming in just so you can talk to them. All of that, that’s why we are still in business.” •