Business not quite as usual at Rifle Conoco |

Business not quite as usual at Rifle Conoco

Post Independent/Kelley Cox

RIFLE – David Valencia is open for business, but it doesn’t feel right.Eleven months after his service station at the corner of Railroad Avenue and Highway 6 was burned to the ground, Valencia is in midst of another long day. Another step in piecing his life back together.”I’m glad to be back home again,” he said as he finished patching a tire for a customer.Valencia looks around and smiles. “I hate it. I hate everything. It’s all new and I don’t know where anything is yet.”The smile is easy but it disappears quickly when he talks about the 11-month struggle.Valencia says seeing his old customers return validates his small-town business philosophy.”Customer service, taking care of the customer has always been the way I do business.”Valencia bought the station on Dec. 11, 1980, about six months after he snared his diploma at Rifle High School.He poured as much as he could into establishing the business. But as a new business owner, family life took a back seat, and that meant less time with his two daughters, who are now grown.”I didn’t see them a lot when they were young. I was at work a lot,” Valencia says.Starting over can be defined in a variety of ways. For Valencia, it means getting to work at 5 a.m. and sometimes making it home at midnight or later.”It’s tough,” he says with that easy smile and a sigh. “I hurt, I ache, it’s hard to get out of bed. Man, I’m no spring chicken anymore.”Hours spent turning wrenches and standing on concrete can wear down a man.

At 45, Valencia was looking forward to shifting gears to a slower pace. He’d paid his dues. He’d put in his time. That’s what people look forward to after 25 years of hard work and clearing the hurdles of owning a business.Not now. It’s now time to start over – from rock bottom.When an arson fire destroyed his station on Sept. 5, 2005, it was the most vicious punch in the gut he could have ever imagined.Seven days later, a little perspective landed in his arms.From the ultimate low, the most joyous high arrived. Joel David Valencia was born on Sept. 12, 2005.Valencia’s smile grows bigger. The smile of a proud dad. “He’s named after me, my middle name is Joel. That was a happy, joyous day.”He and his wife Jennifer also have 3-year-old Maddy at home. The long hours are tough on so many levels for Valencia.”The first 10 years Dad wasn’t home a lot, and I didn’t want that to happen again when I became a dad again.”But life changed last Labor Day.He’s missing a lot back at home, and it hurts.”Maddy will call me and ask ‘Dad, when are you coming home?,'” Valencia says without a smile. “This should be the time when I’m enjoying life.”Valencia tries not to dwell on the past, but it’s always difficult when customers stop in and talk about it.

Robin Clifton of Collbran will be back in court to face charges in October. Valencia doesn’t like to talk about Clifton or the case.It’s the look-forward philosophy.Insurance didn’t pay for everything, and the inventory is still low.”We had $40,000 worth of tires, and now we’re down to about $2,000,” he says.The customer with the hole in his tire would have bought a tire, but there wasn’t one in stock.”We’ll get there, but it’ll take a while. We’ll just buy what we can afford for now.”Valencia might dwell a little on the past but he tries to keep his focus firmly on the future.”Always optimistic, always looking forward.”When he does glance to the past, he admits, “after 11 months, I’m still a little numb.”That’s what happens when someone torches a piece of your life.His old customers always make him feel good and provide another step toward normalcy. Baby steps.Just like the ones he’s missing at home as Joel grows older.Even though he jokes about the new station, Valencia says business is good. The station now has diesel and pay-at-the-pump capabilities.

He still has an attendant that washes the windows and pumps gas for customers.It may be a new station, but the old-time customer service philosophy is still entrenched at the northeast corner of Railroad and Highway 6.The fire has made Valencia more cautious and a little harder. Small-town Rifle isn’t the same. He wishes his two young kids could see the same Rifle he grew up with and has always called home and always will.The past, present and future have all merged into one for now, and Valencia has little choice but to work his tail off.That’s another curse of starting over.”Hopefully, I’ll be back to a five-day work schedule pretty soon,” he says; another small smile emerges. Every day brings Valencia another step closer to normal.Normal will mean spending more time at home and less time at work.Normal means being a dad and husband more. For now, it’s baby steps toward normal. Eleven months later he’s on the road back.Eleven months and seven days later, Joel is also taking baby steps, and Maddy is missing her dad.Baby steps – some are joyous, others are very difficult.

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