Gas returns to Jamaica

Cota & Cota buys Kearley Fuel, opens 24-hour pumps

JAMAICA — You can buy gasoline in Jamaica again.

Mo's Market in East Jamaica, which was destroyed by fire in August, stopped selling gas last year and left the village without a gas station.

However, Cota & Cota, a heating oil and propane gas dealer based in Bellows Falls, bought Kearley Fuel Service of Jamaica in July and decided to do something about the gas pump deficit.

In addition to taking over Kearley's customer base, Cota & Cota installed a new set of self-serve, automated gas pumps at Kearley's offices on Route 30. These pumps feature a key system used by Cota & Cota customers, an idea originated by Gasboy Fuel Control Systems back in the mid-1990s.

The “Key Club” members are given a key with its own corresponding personal identification number that they insert into the pump in order to dispense gasoline or diesel fuel. The fuel purchased is then charged onto the key electronically and added to the members' weekly bills.

The pumps are convenient for non-members as well who can borrow a key from inside, said Customer Service Representative Eliza Gosselin.

“It's a big convenience for people like caretakers, tow truckers, EMTs, excavators - all people that really depend on the 24/7 accessibility,” she said, “and that's who we're catering to mostly.”

This technology has enabled customers to have complete access to the pumps. Any member just needs to fill out a simple application and any non-member can fill out a credit application. The keys also work at the two other Cota & Cota Key Club locations in North Windsor and Bellows Falls.

Family businesses

Cota & Cota bought Kearley from Barrows & Fisher Oil Co. of Brattleboro, which had owned Kearley since 1966. Principals said it was a natural fit for one family-owned energy company to sell to another family-owned energy company.

Founded by Ken and Helen Cota on May 1, 1941, Cota & Cota is on its third generation of family ownership, and is one of the largest independent fuel companies in Vermont.

In 1995, Casey Cota and his brother Sean Cota purchased the company from their father. In 2010, Casey bought his brother's half of the company to own it completely.

“Sean was into politics and moved down to Washington, D.C.,” said Casey. “I knew I was going to stay up here for a while and so it ultimately worked out better for the both of us.”

With sole authority, Cota made some big business moves, including his purchase of Kearley. Since then, Cota has been working hard to get Kearley's where he envisioned it to be.

Kearley Fuel Service has some unique history as well. In 1949, Mrs. Martha Kearley took over her husband's oil business shortly after he fell ill to multiple sclerosis. Mrs. Kearly took her business from central Townshend to Jamaica where she bought land from the Wilkins family. Because of the recent opening of Stratton Mountain, Mrs. Kearly built her oil plant in a swiss chalet style to welcome the skiers on their way to Stratton. Her business took off and has run successfully ever since.

In 1966, she finally sold the business to Barrows Oil, who were so moved by the local customers' sentimentality towards the business that they continued to use the company's original name.

Forty-six years later, Barrows owner Lee Merrill eagerly sold Kearley Fuels to Casey Cota.

“Casey treated Kearley's the same way,” Gosselin said. “We have some customers who have been buying from us for over 50 years. 'Kearley Fuels' is a familiar name around here. Some people are intimidated by Cota & Cota because they're such a big company. But it's still a family-owned, Vermont-based company; even though it may cost a little more, we strive to put out the best quality product we can. We stand by everything we do.”

On the transition of new ownership, she responded, “[Cota & Cota] made the transition very comfortable. It's hard going from such a small business with 12 other coworkers to a big business network with 100-plus coworkers. It took awhile to get used to, but they were very patient and understanding.”

In addition to the new fuel station, Cota & Cota consolidated its Winhall office at Kearley's Jamaica location.

“I think it's been a good transition and I think what makes it so successful is that we have great people here at Kearley's. They've got great attitudes and a willingness to learn new things, which makes it easy and fun. For me, it's a pleasure to come into work every day. It's not the work you do, but the people you work with. It's been very successful.”

Cota said the customer feedback has been “all positive” so far.

“A lot of people are happy that they can now get all their products and services from one supplier at one location. A few months back, I'd walk into town to get my lunch and people would ask me everyday how close we were to getting the pumps up. This whole valley's like a big family where everyone's concerned for one another. That's how we run our business, and it's nice to know we're working in a community that has the same philosophy.”

Cota's latest project for the Kearley site is an underground 30,000 gallon propane fuel depot. “That way our trucks won't have to travel as far to get propane and they can deliver to more customers in a shorter amount of time.”

According to Cota, the propane depots should up and running by the end of December.

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