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Muncie Star Home Page
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 for dealers.

"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 oil.

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 20 units.

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 tradition.

"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 Co.

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 coming soon.

"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.


All contents 1998 Muncie Newspapers Inc. Reproduction without permission is prohibited.

 

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Mannings in 1948 / Click to enlarge
Founded in 1948

Our Race Car / Click to enlarge

Mannings in 1968 / Click to enlarge


MANNING SERVICE 100 2008

Jeff at Station 1998 / Click to enlarge

Fast Track High Performance Driving School 2002

Mannings in 1998

Charles "Merritt" Manning / 1916 - 1995
MERRITT MANNING

Lt. Gov. 50 Year Award / Click Here
Lt. Governor's Half-Century Award

1998 Retailer of the Year Award / Click to Enlarge
1998 Retailer of the Year Award

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SARATOGA, IN 47382-0027

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email: mail@msiwix.com

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LAST UP DATE ON: 01/15/2015