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28conoco to go ROCH/MD/kh/

Conoco plans to pull out of Minnesota in August

By Jeff Kiger

jkiger@postbulletin.com

The familiar red-and-white Conoco and Phillips 66 signs will disappear from Rochester, and from the entire state of Minnesota, this summer.

The Houston, Texas-based ConocoPhillips confirmed Friday that it is pulling out of the state. It sent letters to all its stations recently telling them that fuel service will end Aug. 3.

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There are seven stations in Rochester that sell Conoco.

Conoco spokesman Phil Blackburn said on Friday that the company is transitioning out of branded gasoline and branded diesel in Minnesota, as well as all or part of seven other states.

Most gas stations that sell the ConocoPhilips brand are locally owned and operated. That means that when those brands vanish from Minnesota, the stations will need to find new suppliers.

It’s not a new problem for Virgil’s Auto Clinic and Towing in Rochester, said Bruce Nelson, one of the owners.

The busy station across from Saint Marys Hospital on Second Street Southwest has sold many brands since it opened in 1952. So many, actually, that Nelson and his brothers have trouble remembering them all.

Cities Service, Texaco Gulf, ICO and Citco have all been sold there; Conoco has been the brand at the pumps for the past 10 years.

After Aug. 3, Virgil’s will become independent, at least at first. That means it will sell fuel with a brand. Nelson said they plan to try that approach. If it doesn’t work, then they might look for another brand.

Across Rochester at Severson Food Plus along North Broadway, the change hit a more personal nerve.

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"It’s upsetting," said owner Tom Severson, who has seven stations in the region. "I grew up with Conoco. I’ve been around it all my life." His family’s connection goes back to 1939.

While the pullout is sad, he said, Severson already has a plan in place to deal with it. When Conoco became less interested in small stations like the one he owns in Harmony, he created his own brand of Mileage fuel.

Taking down the Conoco sign and putting up the Mileage one was kind of tough, but, "we’ve adjusted to it," he said.

Now he provides Mileage fuel to three other stations that he doesn’t own. After Conoco is gone, all of his stations will sell Mileage.

"We can provide our own quality," Severson said. "And no matter what the brand is, I have the most exceptional people working for me."

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