From the pages of the Star Press
Sunday, April 26, 1998
Randolph County kerosene dealer
sells around the world
By ELDON PITTS
The Star Press
SARATOGA -- When the late Merritt Manning started his service station at Evans and
Washington streets, he couldn't have imagined how the business would change over 50 years.
Originally, Manning's sold gasoline and cars and performed mechanical repairs on cars
and farm vehicles. It became a family affair.
Merritt Manning's brother, Bob, joined him in the Randolph County business as a
mechanic until his death in 1977. One of Merritt's sons, Miles, worked there in 1973-88.
Another, Jeff, went to work for the station in 1978.
But over the years, "things changed, and our automotive business kind of started
going downhill after my Uncle Bob (the mechanic) passed away," said Jeff Manning, who
now owns the business.
The town's lone gas station (one of only a handful of businesses still in Saratoga)
expanded into kerosene. Manning's has sold and serviced kerosene heaters for more than 20
years at the retail level.
Still, Jeff Manning said, "we were on the verge of closing down a few years ago,
after my Father passed away."
But recently "some things just seemed to start falling into place," he said.
Manning's acquired Lifestyle Distributors last year and the Northern Light Wick Co.
this year and has become one of the largest wholesale and retail sellers of kerosene
heaters and wicks in the United States.
Manning noticed that no one was selling heaters and wicks on the Internet. So he
created his own Web site; the address is www.msiwix.com .
What started as a 1-page site has expanded to more than 26 pages with a catalog of
kerosene heaters, wicks, accessories and answers to frequently asked questions about
heaters and maintenance.
Computer technology has "made a world of difference, and it's really what made me
decide to stay open," Manning said.
The Internet "gets us out of Saratoga" for sales to hundreds of dealers and
thousands of customers around the world, Manning said, pointing to maps of the nation and
the world on a wall in his office. There are blue markers for customers and yellow markers
"We have shipped our products to places as far away as China, Germany, Iceland,
Japan, Canada, Poland, Italy and New Caledonia," Manning said. "It's always cold
somewhere around the world."
Back in Saratoga, Manning plans to install new fuel tanks to continue as an independent
gasoline dealer with just "basic automotive service," such as changing tires and
Most of the automotive business Manning does now is installing sunroofs, cruise
controls and tinting windows. Jeff Manning is a Certified Sunroof Installer from the
Stretchform Corp. and has over 300 installations to his credit.
Manning's also has expanded over the years to sell groceries, movie and game rentals
and lottery tickets.
Manning added a car wash, but it recently was converted to a workshop where
"Woodies," which are wooden cup holder/coolers, are made.
And Manning's latest project is the construction of self-storage units behind the
former car wash. The first building is scheduled to open this summer and will have about
Manning said he might celebrate the station's 50th birthday in October, its anniversary
month. Or he might combine it with Santa Claus Day in December, a 50-year station
"We go together with the local volunteer firefighters and buy 200 or 300 bags of
treats," he said. Santa hands them out from his sleigh at the station, usually the
Saturday before Christmas.
But even with the international sales that Manning has developed, he said he still
enjoyed being at the business and seeing our regular customers and the "lunch
crowd." Diners usually roll in about 11:30 a.m. each day from R.G. Applegate Steel
While the store doesn't have a kitchen, hot packaged sandwiches, chips, candy, cakes
and even the little glass bottles of Coca-Cola are still available. Buffet Style Pizza is
"I enjoy visiting with the locals, seeing everybody and keeping in touch with the
customers," Manning said.
Manning is likely to keep doing what he does for some time.
"I guess a lot of people just expect to see me down here," he said.
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