A sign to smile
Station owner uses message board to brighten customers’ moods

By Brianna Stubler

Jan. 3, 2019

Craig Larsen of West Bend walks back to his home carrying items he purchased at the Mobile gas station seen behind him Friday morning in West Bend.
John Ehlke / Conley Media

WEST BEND — The saying “less is more,” coupled with a desire to spread a positive message, inspired one gas station owner to use her message board in a new way.

Jolene Blair, owner of the Mobil Gas Station on Main Street in West Bend, recently changed one side of her sign to display the word “smile.”

“I wanted to reach out to the public and do something for people,” Blair said. As a business owner, she experiences customers at their best and worst, and wanted to address those who come into her store in a bad mood.

“Everybody is just so gloomy, so I wanted to put something positive up there, but I didn’t want to offend anyone,” she said. “I just wanted it to be short and simple and hoped I could make someone’s day brighter and make more people smile.”

Blair said the idea came to her out of the blue — prior to the change, the sign posted beer sales and specials.

“Hopefully they see us as a friendly place to go and know we care,” she said. “Around the holidays people write “Merry Christmas” or “Happy New Year,” so I wanted to put a quote or even just a word to make people think.”

Making a difference

Since the swap, Blair and her employees have collected stories about people’s reactions.

“It’s made a difference, for sure,” Blair said. “People come in and say, ‘hey look, I’m smiling,’ so it’s done its job.”

A few customers were so surprised by the positive message they had to stop and ask for clarification.

“A couple people asked if there was supposed to be something more up there, so I asked them if they were smiling, and then they were,” she said.

Once she had the idea for an inspirational message board, Blair gathered her employees to brainstorm ideas for their inaugural message.

“‘Smile’ was actually more than one suggestion,” she said, which may have been encouraged by her rule that the winner be the employee who changes the board.

“That employee has to fix the board, because it’s really hard to change,” she said. The cold temperatures make the board freeze, so the letters don’t stick very well and changing them becomes a chore.

“It’s been so cold here, and I was on my honeymoon for two weeks,” she said. “This is our first vacation in 18 years. We never went on a honeymoon or anything because we were working all the time, so we finally decided that we’re getting older and it was time to go.”

It was shocking coming back from 85-degree weather in St. Kitts, so her sign served as a reminder to herself in addition to her customers.

This spontaneity likely lent itself to the creation of the positive message board, and may help with future quotes.

But until the numbers on the thermometer increase, the sign will continue to encourage the community to smile, probably for another month, Blair said. In the winter, her goal is to share a new message every other month. As that date approaches, she said, she’ll get everyone together once again to decide on the next inspirational quote.

“If I wanted to go out and change it now, it would be impossible,” she said, but she likes the message and said others do too. So for now, the reminder to smile will stay along with the cold weather.