ELLENBERGER: 'Customers are like family'

COLUMBIA CITY — For the past five years, Columbia City resident and Marathon store manager Dee Ellenberger has been putting her personable skills to good use, considering many of her customers to be like her family.“My customers are like family,” said Ellenberger. “I’ve laughed a lot with them, and I’ve cried a lot with them.”Ellenberger, 58, works at the Marathon located at Connexion Way and Armstrong Drive in Columbia City, clocking in early in the morning to prepare the store for business and working until the afternoon.Overall, she has been in store management for approximately 21 years.Originally from Portland, Ellenberger spent most of her adult life in Bluffton. After working for 17 years in store management, Ellenberger came to Columbia City, took a year off work, then decided she wanted to work with customers again.“When I first got up here, I wasn’t sure I liked it because I knew nobody,” said Ellenberger. “It’s not home, and it will never be home, but I like the people up here. I thought I didn’t want to work in the public anymore, but there was something missing. Once you’ve been in it that long and you’re not there, you miss the people.”According to Ellenberger, her regular customers have helped her get through tough times as she has done the same for them.“You come in and you’ve got your regular customers who like to joke with you, and they like to pick on you and you like to pick on them, and then a lot of those regular customers, if they’ve had the loss of a loved one or the loss of an animal or just something sad happens in their life, and they come in and tell me about it, and they’re crying, I’m often crying too,” said Ellenberger. “I’m soft hearted, and when I see someone else who’s hurt, it bothers me. Also, when I’ve had some bad times, like when I lost my father since I’ve been up here, my customers have been there for me too.”Due to the gas station’s accessibility from U.S. 30, not every customer Ellenberger encounters is a regular, coming in almost every day.“I meet all kinds of people, and I do see a lot of foreigners and a lot of travelers,” said Ellenberger. “I’m always curious to know where they’re from, especially if they have an accent.”In the time that Ellenberger has spent working at the gas station, they have not had any big lottery winners.“We had one $40,000 winner, but we’re still waiting on the big jackpot winner,” said Ellenberger.However, Ellenberger said she can remember two instances she was slightly scared at the gas station. “There was one time when there were four guys banging on the window before we were open,” said Ellenberger. “I would come in the middle of the night to get things started for breakfast and everything, and there were four guys banging on the window wanting in. I started to go back to the back and they just kept banging on the window. Had to call the police for that. Another time there was a guy who came in the middle of night who had gotten gas, and you could tell something was wrong. He came up to the register. He had cards that wouldn’t go through. And he said I he couldn’t pay for it. He started to get violent, and I ended up calling the police department on that one too.”While Ellenberger said keeping the proper inventory in the slower months is probably the most challenging part of her job, she enjoys working for the owner, Nitu Garcha.As much as Ellenberger has grown to love Columbia City as her current home, she is looking forward to returning to Bluffton one day.“My goal is to work another five years, retire or semi-retire and move back home,” said Ellenberger.