From a small, dimly-lit store with two small coolers inside and old-school mechanical gas pumps with no canopy out front, Karen and Pat Shearen have expanded and improved Southside Fuel Plus into the multi-purpose, up-to-date store it is today.
That didn’t happen overnight, of course. It took years of hard work, good business sense and keen insight into what customers both want and need.
On Feb. 1, 1982, at age 25, the Shearens moved to Hackensack with six-month old son Luke and bought Southside, as it was known then, at the south edge of Hackensack.
Pat was familiar with the area, having vacationed annually since he was a kid at a resort on Birch Lake.
“It was just Pat and me and Bonnie, our one employee,” Karen reminisced. “We were like two ships passing in the night, with the baby and working different shifts.”
The business definitely needed some upgrades. Inside, the store had old wooden shelves and outside there was a dirt driveway. The two gas pumps dispensed only leaded gas and premium.
A lot can change in 39 years. Gradually the Shearens added more square footage to the cramped store. Two small coolers grew to a large 15 door walk-in cooler, an open air cooler and several freezers. Rest rooms were expanded, and brighter lighting and a canopy over the gas pumps were installed.
Now there are four gas pumps out front, with the diesel pump off to one side to allow more space for larger trucks and semis to fill.
Southside Fuel Plus sells 87 octane, diesel (blended during winter months) and 91 non-ethanol (from a separate nozzle).
“We offer a full line of groceries, lottery tickets (the only place in town to get them), F’Real milkshakes, health and beauty aids, and automotive products like two-cycle oil and spark plugs for snowmobilers and four-wheelers,” Karen listed. Southside is conveniently located near recreational trails.
It’s also just a couple of blocks from Mann Lake Ltd., manufacturers of beekeeping supplies and the area’s largest employer.
“Over the years, we have expand our hot lunch to-go menu,” she continued. “We are open seven days a week at 5:30 a.m. to accommodate early shifts and all the construction crews working in the area.”
Some things you find at Southside are seasonal, like straw bales to cover drain fields or landscaping for the winter, and Christmas trees. As the local fire warden, Southside is the place to go for a burning permit.
The cluster of recycling bins at the north end of the paved driveway is definitely a community service, but one that people sometimes don’t appreciate or respect.
“We encourage the clean and proper use of the recycling bins, so they can remain in the area for everyone’s use,” Karen said.
Recently the Shearens did some major upgrades including a new paved driveway and cement islands. Four new gas pumps have TVs in them so customers can watch while pumping fuel.
During the first COVID shutdown in March, gas sales were down because fewer people were driving to work or were working from home. Fortunately, Southside was considered an essential business and was able to stay open. They’ve instituted all the recommended sanitizing measures and installed plexiglass shields at the counter.
Southside Fuel Plus is a family-owned and operated business. Over the years, Pat and Karen’s son and daughter have also worked in the store.
One thing that makes Southside stand out is Karen’s summer garden adjacent to the store.
“It’s unique to any convenience store, and to Hack,” she says. “Locals and tourists alike have enjoyed the beautiful flowers. I can’t wait for spring again!”
Amen to that!