Today on one perimeter edge of Eastgate Shopping Center in Chapel Hill there are separate restaurants serving burritos, gourmet salads and souvlakia, but up until a decade ago there was a full-service gas station there called Eastgate BP.
“Like the song says, they paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” says Shawn Hocker, a former Tar Heel football player who toiled during the summers pumping gas, scraping windows and doing odd jobs around the business owned and operated by one James Israel Spurling.
Before the internet, social media and text messaging, news spread by chewing the fat. At Eastgate BP most every morning, various and sundry from town and gown would convene to drink coffee and commiserate about politics, the weather and Tar Heel sports. Among the regulars over the years were Chancellor Bill Aycock, Rams Club Executive Director Ernie Williamson and Kenan-Flagler Business School Dean Paul Rizzo.
“Mr. Spurling’s station was the centerpiece of town,” says Hampton Corley, who grew up in Chapel Hill and whose father, Glenn, was a prominent architect. “Men met there and talked about town business. He kept tabs for gas sales and people settled up at the end of the month.”
“It was a ‘who’s who’ of University and town leaders who’d come through every day,” says Jeff Saturday, another football player in the fall and gas-jockey in the summer. “It was a home-away-from-home for a ton of folks. James always had a smile on his face and was there to listen. It was like the town barbershop. The news traveled first through Eastgate BP.”