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Popular Billings Conoco closing; owner reflects on years spent serving Billings
By Kelsey Merison,
The Conoco gas station on Sixth Avenue North in downtown Billings has always been a one-stop shop for road trips. But it will soon be a thing of the past.
That Conoco, located at 2701 Sixth Ave. N., is set to close on Saturday, March 18 after years in business. The property owners have decided to sell the land, leading to the closure of the convenience store.
The gas station has been owned and operated by Mun Lee, a Billings native, for the last five years.
"Probably one of the more unexpected things that I liked more, or most about the job, is just all the characters. The people that come through these places are the crossroads of society. So you meet a lot of really interesting people,” Lee said on Thursday. "You know over time, these places, what we do might not be life-changing. But to make somebody’s day a little bit better, that’s all that matters.”
And this business has been in the same friend group for decades.
“A friend of mine, Paul (Murphy), he had it (before me). And he was looking to get out, so he asked me if I was interested. And it went from there,” Lee said. "His dad and his wife and her family had it before then as well."
Lee said he grew up just down the road from Downtown Conoco.
“I just grew up like five blocks away. That was also one of the reasons kind of why I wanted to be here. Was because, you know, I could look out the window and see myself riding a bike," Lee said. "I remember Cobb Field (now Dehler Park). I remember when they’d ice over the parking lot and it was a skating rink. So it’s kind of like I’m coming back to the neighborhood.”
Lee believes everyone deserves to see a smiling face when they walk into a store.
“That’s I think why the current property owners wanted me to do it. Because I am a local. I can make it personable, and I think I did that. Everybody deserves some courtesy, some basic humanity. And with that, that’s what’s most important," Lee said. "A friend of mine told me, and he’s also a business owner here in town. And he told me, 'Now that you’re a business owner, money doesn’t matter. People matter the most,' and that’s really true.”
And over the years, Lee said he has seen change come to the city—but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
“Change is the only constant that you can really bet on. So you know most of the stuff that’s changed around town is actually really good," Lee said. "Change from the old to new is always tough. Gonna miss a lot of folks around here."
Lee said he is saddened to say goodbye to his regulars.
"There’s people who go for, like, doctor’s appointments on the regular, and they’ve made this kind of their stop when they’re in the area to gas up before they go home too. So it is kind of a nice thing that even folks who aren’t living here keep stopping here," Lee said. "Working here, one thing I didn’t really expect is when people finally kind of open up to you. Or when people just need to unload. You’re kind of Lucy’s Psychiatry."
And that attitude has gained him many regulars—like Robert Wiley.
“I really like him. He treats me more than fair and everything like that. Outgoing, very personable. Very friendly. He’s well worth it,” Lee said. "When he took over, I made it a point to make sure it’s the only place I buy gas and all my goodies."
Wiley said he will miss the morning chit-chats.
“Oh, definitely. I’m going to miss him a lot. But he gave me his card so we can stay in contact and everything like that,” Lee said. “I’ll miss the whole place."
And as for Lee, he’s looking forward to some free time while he figures out his next move.
“There’s been a lot of different offers from actually regulars and options that they offered. I think for me, right now, I need to move past this stress," Lee said. "So then I can take a little bit of time to decompress and figure out how I’m going to reinvent myself, and where I’m going to end up.”
The business will be open until 8 p.m. Saturday, and almost everything is deeply discounted.
And although it's closing, Lee said he is grateful for the memories he made over five years of ownership.
“Billings is home. This is kind of my old neighborhood, but it’s kind of an opportunity. Again, I was that little kid peeking through the fence, watching baseball games over at Cobb Field. Swimming all summer long at Athletic Park," Lee said. "Skating on the ice skating rink and just riding my bike around, mitt and glove. It’s just good times. It’s home. And thank you to everyone who has come in. I appreciate it, and I’m going to miss you all.”
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