The Kings of Gas Stations

Adnan Kiriscioglu who owns 25 gas stations in four different states.(Photo: Yasemin Ozkafa)
By Cemil Ozyurt - The Turkish, Armenian, and Assyrian entrepreneurs from Turkey, who have been interested in the fuel industry in the USA since the 1960’s, are still running nearly 300 gas stations in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut today. Creating over 2 billion dollars worth of economic input, the entrepreneurs also provide employment for more than 3000 people. The gas station business is in the hands of Armenians, especially in northern New Jersey, and of Turks in the Long Island region. Long Island, the Crimean Tatars and Uzbek Turks had initially entered the sector widely, and became so strong as to virtually create their own franchise. The first known Turkish gas station owner became active in Long Island at the end of the 1960’s.
Kanat Erbay, who left behind his military officer status in Turkey and settled in the USA, Kenan Ödemiş, one of the first Kazan Turks, Faruk Terpiş, and the former Fenerbahçe soccer player Salim Görür were among the first names that entered the fuel sector.

Kenan Ödemiş established a Kenaco gas station chain in 1981 and had a total of 23 branches in upstate New York, and, later, sold it to ATI stations in 1984. Numan Okuyan, who was directing Kenan Ödemiş’s business during those years, says that they had opened 23 stations in a short time over a region extending from Middletown to Albany, and that it was a great success for those days. Okuyan, at that time, was responsible for researching and designating the sites for the stations.

Power Test Petroleum Distributors was one of the first stations of the earliest gas station owners. Turkish entrepreneurs played an important role in the growth of the New York Yonkers-centered Power Test. Power Test bought the northeastern representation of Getty, a sub-station of the oil giant Texaco, in February 1985. and the firm’s name was changed to Getty. Also doing wholesale of fuels, Faruk Terpiş is still the head of the business.

Gas stations also became the focus of the Armenians that came from Turkey to New Jersey during the 1960’s. The person who served as the link in Turkish Armenians’ entrance into the fuel business in New Jersey was the mechanic Hamparsum (Harry) Civan. Civan, an Armenian from Istanbul, gave job opportunities at his workplace to many Turks and Armenians.
Adnan Kiriscioglu who owns 25 gas stations in four different states.(Photo: Yasemin Ozkafa)

One of the first gas station owners, Arev (Sunny) Kerkorian, had gained the capital, which he needed for opening his own station, by working at Civan’s business. Civan came to the USA in 1960 and passed away in February 2010 at the age of 79; he had opened Harry’s Amaco at 1300 Palisade Ave. in Fort Lee, New Jersey since 1970. The business is now being run by his daughters.

Another person who opened his own station and car repair shop after working with the mechanic Hampsarsum (known as ‘Hampik’) is the owner of Eurotech Motors, Inc., Zenop Tuncer. “The shop of Master Hampik was almost like a university. Many of those who opened car repair shops in New Jersey, such as Dikran, Arto, and Kirkor, had grown there,” says Tuncer.

The gas station business was so popular that, at one point, even Yasin Özdenak, a former player on the Cosmos soccer team, opened up an Amaco branch with the partnership of Turkish businessman Can Has. Özdenak and Can run the Amaco stations at 125th Street in Harlem, and at 34th Street and Hudson Street in Manhattan.