Driving up to the pump at Enstine’s Fuel on Hill Street in Southampton, a customer is guaranteed two things: a tank of gas and a friendly attendant pumping it.It is that small-town attitude and dedication to customers that has fueled the home-heating business and full-service station for the past 100 years and made it one of the oldest surviving family-owned businesses in town. Now the sibling-run company is gearing up for the next century.
“It has been our livelihoods all of our lives,” co-owner Ann Enstine said, including her three brothers in the sentiment. “We are just going to keep on keeping on and meeting all of the challenges thrown at us.”
Enstine Fuel Inc. was started in 1913 by brothers Milton Perigo-Enstine, Carlos Vala and Freddie Vala. Originally, it would deliver gasoline from the brothers’ home, also on Hill Street, to local estates to fuel cars and private planes, using horse-drawn carriages. A few years later, the family expanded the business and opened the Hill Street location, between Captains Neck Lane and Lee Avenue, as a Mobil gas station and repair shop.
Over the years, Ms. Enstine said, the family has grown with the business, noting that her parents, Milton Enstine and the former Julia Harrington, met when her mother was working as a bookkeeper there.
Since 1961, all of the Enstine children have worked at the shop, with Peter joining in 1961, Ms. Enstine starting in 1970, Thomas starting in 1980, and Milton in 2000. Whether it’s pumping gas, delivering fuel oil or repairing cars, the siblings play a hands-on part in the business—and now the next generation is starting to be groomed, with Peter Jr. joining the team earlier this year.
“I think the people have changed more than the business,” his father said this week. “This is where it all started, right here.”
According to Ms. Enstine, it is the customers that make the business. There are some who’ve been patronizing the gas station longer than she has been alive, she said, noting that it is always nice to have conversations with the regulars.
One customer, Southampton Village resident Paul Henneforth, 70, said this week that he has been going to Enstine’s for 40 years because of its friendly atmosphere. He said the family is always willing to talk to customers about what is going on in their lives—he even gets medical advice from them—and that they know the ins and outs of the area, while attendants at some other stations can’t even direct someone to Town Hall.
“I really enjoy that it is a family operation,” he said. “It is very difficult in business these days to find somebody who cares, and they do. They really appreciate all of their customers, and that is why I am a loyal customer.”
Another customer, Sheldon Prentice, 72, said it is family tradition to go to Enstine’s, noting that his parents went there for gas long before he did. Mr. Prentice, who splits his time between England and Southampton Village, said this week that each trip to Enstine’s is a reminder of what Southampton Village was like when he was younger.
“My favorite part is being greeted by the people,” Mr. Prentice said. “They are very nice people.”
Enstine’s is a year-round business that is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. In 2008, the group dropped the Mobil name and put the family name on all of the pumps, a move Ms. Enstine said gave them a certain sense of pride.
To celebrate their 100th anniversary, the Enstines plan to keep things pretty small, with balloons and cookies for the staff. Ms. Enstine said they are looking forward to the future.
“We have had a lot of really great customers here over the years,” she said. “It’s our name here. This is a small town, and you really get to know a lot of people here. It is a real tradition in this village.”