Airport Mobil is in its final days of operation

Owner heartbroken, but prepares for eviction at the end of July.

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Michael Rotondo, owner of Airport Mobil, posts a sign thanking his customers. The gas station and store could close as early as Monday as Mr. Rotondo prepares for eviction. - Photo by Bella Bennett

It was business as usual at Airport Mobil on Monday. There were people inside buying cold drinks and lottery tickets, people at the pumps getting filled up with fuel, and customers wiping away the dust at the car wash.

You would have never known that the station, owned by Airport Fuel Services (AFS) Inc. and operated by Michael Rotondo, is on death row — evicted as of July 31 by order of Judge Thomas Kirkman, who approved the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission’s petition.

On Tuesday, Mr. Rotondo posted a sign on the side of the building announcing that the store would be closing after 20 years in business and thanking his customers. He said the final day is coming, maybe as soon as Monday, as he sells off gas in the fuel tanks and stock from inside the store.

“This whole thing is breaking my heart,” Mr. Rotondo told The Times. “It’s just beyond words.”

Mr. Rotondo was outbid for the property by Louis Paciello of Depot Corner. Though Mr. Paciello offered $250,000 in a “take it or leave it offer,” Mr. Rotondo told The Times in April, he is now spending more than $100,000 to have it removed.

“I couldn’t hold my head up on this Island if I sold it for pennies on the dollar,” he said of the buildings and equipment.

Mr. Rotondo is attempting to make the best of the situation. He is donating two fuel tanks to the Edgartown Fire Department. After the massive tanks — 10,000 and 12,000 gallons — are washed out, they can be used to store water for the fire department in fire-prone areas like Chappaquiddick or South Beach where there is no readily accessible water source, he said.

Edgartown fire officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

“We’re signing contracts and getting ready to pull the tanks,” he said. “At least they won’t be smashed and taken to a disposal site.”

Other equipment, like compressors, is also being sold off. “We’ll recycle what we can, but a lot of good stuff is being thrown out,” he said.

It’s a tough time of year for the Island to lose a business, Mr. Rotondo noted. He said some big rigs and excavators from airport-area businesses use his station and will now be part of the traffic in congested areas.

“I feel bad about that,” he said. “To my customers, I know they support me. Give them my love.”

David Mackey, an attorney for the airport commission, declined comment, citing the ongoing litigation between Mr. Rotondo and the commission over the bid process.

In March, the commission awarded a 20-year lease to Mr. Paciello of Depot Corner, which outbid AFS by nearly $400,000 over the course of the lease. Though Depot Corner was not the high bidder, that bid was tossed out because the commission had questions about the limited details offered by that bidder.

In his ruling, Judge Kirkman found that Mr. Rotondo’s original lease expired and that ended his tenancy for the property. He also ordered Mr. Rotondo to remove the fuel tanks and other facilities from the property to make way for the new leaseholder.

A Superior Court judge had already rejected Mr. Rotondo’s bid to block the transfer of the property to Depot Corner by denying a preliminary injunction in April. Judge Mitchell Kaplan found that Mr. Rotondo had not demonstrated that he had a likelihood of prevailing in his lawsuit that alleges a flawed bidding process against the airport commission.

“As the Superior Court judge noted in his decision denying a preliminary injunction with respect to the very same lease provision under consideration here: ‘This court … has no authority to relieve a party from contract obligations that, in retrospect, now appear to be a bad deal,’” Judge Kirkman wrote. “The defendant knew for 20 years that it was required to remove the leasehold improvements upon the end of the lease.”

Judge Kirkman wrote that the commission can enter the property and remove the equipment “at the expense of AFS.” The judge declined to assign an amount to the “speculative cost” to the commission for removing the structures and fuel tanks.

That order appears to be moot, as Mr. Rotondo has already begun cleaning out the facility and hiring companies to do the demolition.

1 COMMENT

  1. I read the handwritten sign announcing the last day of operation for Airport Mobile with a great deal of sadness. I literally could not look at the items being sold off at discount prices. I am sure it can only help Michael and somehow felt akin to stealing from the dead. This is no exaggeration-a sad day for Martha’s Vineyard.
    I do not remember a time on Martha’s Vineyard not knowing Michael and Sherryl. I do have one negative reflection. In the beginning I remember a common allegiance to Alfa Romeo and for some totally unknown reason Michael changed his allegiance to Fiat. Sides had been chosen!
    I saw nearly 2 generations of youthful employees pumping fuel and selling snacks grow to maturity and move on. But not without leaving an impression that their boss treated them well and they passed on that good feeling to patrons whether for a bottle of water or a full tank of fuel. And then there was the period of time when an early morning stop was greeted by Krispy Kremes!
    I have watched Michael keep that car wash running in the worst of weather conditions up to the point where all the equipment could freeze solid (but never past that point). Somehow he always smiled at those who filled-up and washed without incident as well as the folks who could not seem to follow the clear instructions. Vehicle in neutral; No brakes; fold in mirrors; any roof racks; nothing in truck bed. I must have read those signs a thousand times over the years.
    There is something wrong with way the airport handles these leases. It is not even just the current commission members. I have heard many other stories about the difficulty in negotiating a new lease with the commission. A good friend just gave up and retired after many years of negotiating.
    I looked back into Airport Commission meetings and find that Michael began this process in July of 2006! He wanted to upgrade the facilities including new tanks, pumps, car wash and expanding the building. There was 14 years remaining on the lease and financing was for 15 years. Seems like a simple request. He was told he could certainly do that but the new lease would have to go out to bid. He could apply to upgrade but might end up with nothing to upgrade. This seems just ludicrous. A catch 22 on MV. After 10 years of attempting to get a revised lease, this is the outcome. I have not read this lease in particular and some attorney may have made an error 20 years ago but why does the commission have to punish a good tenant for an old error. I cannot believe no flexibility exists. And how rude to be offered 10% of the cost of constructing a new station by the potential (yes I still have hope) leaseholder.
    The final affront is how sad my dog will be. I have been through the gas line with 3 different dogs over the years and each one has gotten excited when I say we are going to the car wash. The gas attendant has always been there with a dog cookie or 2. Even at the risk of running out of gas, I would never consider a fill-up without my best friend in the car. Poor Nico.
    Even though I will not need a fill-up on Monday, I will do my part to help Michael empty those tanks before removal and donation.

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