Stan Hatoff: A Jamaica Plain Institution
Feel like kicking around the price of fuel oil burners? Stan Hatoff can do that with you.
What? More interested in discussing Post-Impressionist painting or the state of American theater? Stan Hatoff can do that, too.
Hatoff can also tell you what Elizabeth Taylor said when she visited the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Liz didn’t like the rules. “But she was OK,” Hatoff says. “She behaved.”
Hatoff radiates good manners and energy. His trimmed white hair and the pens tucked into his vest pocket give him away as a planner, someone who tends to details.
His windowless office is back behind the gas pumps on Washington Street. Inside, a giant “Hatoff’s” logo - the grinning little man whisking his hat off to travelers - is painted on the back wall above a conference table. Artwork hangs on the three other walls. A fish tank gurgles softly next to his desk, where a sign states, “The Buck Stops Here.”
Hatoff is a big Harry Truman fan. Truman was business-minded, he says. He started from nothing. “He cared, genuinely,” Hatoff continues. “He liked his daughter and his wife and he did a lot for this country.”
Hatoff and his business have a long Jamaica Plain history. Morris Hatoff, Stan’s father, moved to Boston from New York. He opened Hatoff’s original service station in 1924 on Washington Street, near the present site of the Forest Hills Station.
Business took off. Gasoline was seven gallons to the dollar. Hatoff’s was located at a prime outer city crossroads, and many travelers made it a regular stop. At one time, Hatoff says, his father’s station was selling more gallons of gasoline than any other in New England.
Morris Hatoff taught his son the business, but Stan says he took to it naturally at an early age. He helped his father around the station by pumping kerosene when he was five years old. The jobs grew as he did.
As a young adult, Stan left the station to join the army and finish school. His future was open and the wide world beckoned. “My father thought I would forsake him,” Hatoff remembers. “He thought I was going out to the big time.”
Stan surprised him by reporting back to the gas station. He recalls earning $35 a week for seven days of labor. It was hard work, every job from top to bottom, and no slacking off because his father ran the station. “Nobody was out on the golf course,” Hatoff says.
Morris Hatoff let his son make mistakes and learn the business by doing, Stan says. He learned to handle the books, personnel, suppliers, and customers. When his father was killed in a traffic accident in front of the station in 1965, Stan knew how to take over.
In 1974, when Hatoff’s land at Forest Hills was seized by eminent domain for highway construction, the business relocated to the corner of Washington Street and Kenton Road.
“That was a tough time, “ Hatoff says. “Some neighbors didn’t want us because we were doing so much business. People meant well - people do what they think is best - but it was a horror show until we won them over.”
The station is now a Washington Street fixture and a permanent resident. In recent years the business has expanded to add check-cashing, Western Union Services and home heating oil to its operation. Lottery ticket sales at Hatoff’s are among the top five in the state.
When asked his recipe for success, Stan Hatoff’s answer sounds almost too simple: be nice to people. It also helps to have customers know you in person, he says. Everybody who purchases gas at Hatoff’s knows the company logo, but many of them seem to know Stan Hatoff, too.
“In some businesses, you’re in an ivory tower,” Hatoff says. “Not at this place.”
Patrons sometimes find him in a suit and tie. That’s because Hatoff attends to a long list of philanthropic causes after work. They include the Boston Classical Orchestra, New England Sinai Hospital, Beth Israel, Jewish Memorial Hospital and then Recuperative Center in West Roxbury. Jamaica Plain organizations are also on his list.
Off-hours, Hatoff also has a passion for theater and loves to travel. His favorite destinations are London, Paris and Israel. He takes short vacations to the Caribbean whenever he can.
Back at his Washington Street station, Hatoff says he tried to keep his priorities straight. “We lose touch,” Hatoff says. “It’s not about making money or being a big shot. It’s about doing the right thing.
“Course, we have to figure it out or someone had to tell us what the right thing is. When I was a kid you learned it at home, or on the corner. Now if you go to the corner you get hit over the head.”
Hatoff says the world is a much harder place to live now. Still, he calls himself “the greatest optimist in the world.” He believes in small business owners. He has high hopes for kids these days, he says, if they get “the right instruction” at home and in school.
And he believes that risk-taking can pay off.
“You have to go out and do it,” he says. “You have to take a chance on things. We still have the best country in the world, and no one can ruin that.”
By Susan Meyers
Originally published in the March 12, 1993 issue of the Jamaica Plain Gazette. Copyright © Jamaica Plain Gazette. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission. Production assistance provided by Monica Salas.