Geoff Hopps has always prided himself on integrity, honesty and providing good old-fashioned service at Crofton Auto Service.
He’s also such a fixture at the Crofton Road service station it’s come as a complete shock to customers who’ve learned of Hopps’ pending retirement on May 15 of this year. The town clearly won’t be the same without him in the long-established business.
Contrary to the popular belief that Hopps has been there forever, he actually bought the business “on a shoestring,” he said, in 1972. That isn’t quite forever, but 45 1/2 years will almost seem like it when Hopps hangs up his tools and takes off his trademark coveralls for the last time.
“So many things happened, it’s hard to believe it is 45 1/2 years,” he conceded. “I’m fortunate, I have my health. I don’t feel old.”
Hopps will turn 72 in July and just decided it was time to pack it in from Crofton’s only service station.
“I’ve been the only one here, which is good and bad,” he said. “There’s no one to compare you to.
“Trust is the big thing and we’re still full service. I’ve tried to keep that tradition going.”
Dianne Schwestak, for one, said she was always treated right there and her dogs always received a little treat from the staff, too.
“Everybody knew he was leaving before I knew,” she indicated.
“Geoff stands behind everybody there. He’s going to be really missed. I think the gas jockeys won awards for their good service, too. They’re a wonderful crew.”
Plaques hang on the wall inside in recognition of the dedication shown in all areas of the Retail Excellence Program from Shell Canada in 2005, ‘06, ‘07 and ‘09.
Hopps was born in England and moved to Victoria when he was 17, attending Claremont High School. He was married young at 18, had two kids and worked stocking shelves at Oakcrest Foods on Quadra Street and later for a drywaller in Victoria to make ends meet.
Hopps came to Duncan to work on his dad’s farm for a while and then joined Alberg Equipment, a tractor shop, before becoming a mechanic at the old Duncan Chrysler shop where the A&W is currently located.
That was it for the whirlwind part of his life. Little did Hopps know when he arranged to borrow $6,000 between two banks and put up his ‘67 GTX that was in a lot of pieces at the time as collateral that the Crofton Auto Service purchase would provide such long-term stability.
“I never gave it a thought it would last that long,” he conceded.
With retirement on his mind already, Hopps made the decision after encouraging his 16-year mechanic Adam Stacey to apply for another job. Stacey was accepted for a position that he didn’t start until March 1 so Hopps could still go on a planned trip to Mexico.
Hopps’ bookkeeper had also wanted to retire.
“Two key people and I’m ready for it,” he said. “We actually made the decision in January.”
Hopps has employed countless youth in part-time and full-time positions over the 27 years as a Chevron station and the rest under Shell.
“Lots of young people go through here,” he indicated. “I think there’s been 180 people who’ve come and gone here, including ones that work here now.”
The station typically employs around a dozen people, including himself.
Hopps doesn’t know what will happen to the station after he’s gone. It will be up to the landlord to find another person to continue operation in that capacity.
“You basically have a products lease to sell whatever flag you’re flying,” Hopps explained. “I don’t own the real estate.”
He could practically write a book about all his experiences over so many years. One of the most monumental was a 1991 fire that burned the station to the ground.
“It took pretty much everything,” Hopps recalled.
It took about nine months before the building was reconstructed.
Hopps said he’s seen huge changes in the town and the next generation of kids with their own children coming into the station.
And, despite being located close to the Catalyst pulp mill, Hopps said there are misconceptions about the smell.
“Crofton hardly ever has a smell from the mill. We get a couple of days a year and that’s it. It’s a very nice little town.”
Hopps has served as a volunteer on the B.C. Forest Discovery Centre’s board of directors for more than 26 years and will continue that involvement during his retirement. He collects and fixes up old cars and tractors.
He owns more than 40 antique tractors and displays them at a variety of community events.
“I always thought I wanted to be a farmer or a rancher,” Hopps declared.
The rapidly-approaching last day of work is still hard for him to fathom.
“It’s certainly some apprehension about the last time I drive out — a lot of camaraderie with my customers,” Hopps pointed out. “That’s going to be a void, for sure.”