Right in the Middle of Nowhere

Anyone who thinks Dade Corners is just a gas station probably thinks the Everglades is just a little wet spot west of Miami

More stuff: Korena Ginseng Royal Jelly, an inflatable raft, a Little Mermaid life preserver, crab traps, a window-mount TV kit, car-top canoe pads, croissant sandwiches, dozens of varieties of lures, tool boxes, snake-bite first-aid kits, a kingpin lock, dog food.

DOLLAR

"It's the crossroads," says Bob Dollar, whose mother bought sixteen acres at Krome and the Trail in 1978. "I look at maps and there's not too many situations like us." At the time there was a gas station -- only a couple of old pumps -- a small convenience store that was as narrow and long as two bowling alleys side by side, and a country-food restaurant called the Green Frog. "She just always saw that this intersection would one day become valuable," explains Dollar, a slender man whose voice modulates between low and lower. "Everyone else thought it was all the way out in Bumfuck." By that time the Tamiami Trail had been widened to four lanes east of Krome Avenue, but the western edge of development didn't extend much past NW 107th Avenue. "It was a road-to-nowhere kind of thing," he says. Business since then has been steadily growing, owing in part to western development and, most recently, to the widening of Krome Avenue in 1993. It has now become a major artery for north-south traffic on the western edge of Dade.

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"We're like a focal point. People seem to make it here. They crawl here with gunshot wounds. We call the police." He pauses for effect, smiling wryly. "People would pull up here, drop people off naked," he continues. "Guys would kick women out after raping them. The DEA has done operations out here," he goes on. "Anytime you notice people hanging out, that's probably what's happening. Once I saw some guys standing by one of the pumps. I go over to them. They said, 'Go away. We're making a deal.' They were going to make a sting on a guy selling explosives right here.

"Immigration used to grab people all the time" -- the recollections tumble out easily -- "they would swoop in here and grab people. It's just like a Cheech and Chong movie with emigres scattering into the woods."

One time Dollar noticed someone had left a truck rig behind Dade Corners. He allows truckers to park overnight only and doesn't charge rent, but this trailer stood for two days without moving. Police came by with a drug-sniffing dog and discovered the trailer was loaded with pot. "Within an hour, an unmarked truck was hauling the trailer away," recalls Dollar, then adds sardonically, "You never really know what happens. I'm sure it was handled properly."

But these are now old stories. Dollar confirms that after nineteen years, the Dollar family is indeed selling the facility. "Midlife career change," he says, explaining that he and his brother are going to concentrate on running their three truck dealerships. Dollar also says that although the government permits are in place, he doesn't have the necessary capital to modernize and expand the gas station and restaurant. "It's sad, in many respects," he reflects. "But I'm hoping that it will grow into something bigger and better."

More stuff: snow domes with tropical fish inside, hunting and fishing licenses, Coleman lanterns, bug spray, Sterno cooking fuel, "Wide Load" banners, car batteries and battery-terminal posts, deodorant, Mylar letters and numbers, flip-flops, CD extension speakers, diapers.

ISIDRO

On May 12 Dollar sold the 3.5-acre parcel of land that includes Dade Corners. Price: $4.5 million, he says. The new owners are a group of eight investors operating under the corporate title Dade Corners Marketplace, Inc. Six of the investors are also developing three other gas stations in South Florida. The hands-on front men for the gas-station group include two brothers, Isidro and George Almirall, and a partner, Roman Lavien. All three are Cuban American and in their thirties. Even before the official end of the four-day closing at Dade Corners, the Almiralls and Lavien had already begun combing the store, assessing the inventory and planning changes.

"We don't want to mess with success," says 30-year-old Isidro, a fit, clean-cut fellow. "I don't want to throw a wrench in an operation that's doing great. I just want to take it to the next level." For that he plans to switch the gas to Exxon, install showers for truckers, pave the truck-parking area at the rear of the site, and begin leasing truck-parking space (but still not charging for short-term stays of several hours). Next he wants to renovate the restaurant and, later, shift it to the rear of the station to be closer to the truckers. Also he plans to expand the store. Everything, he cautions, will happen gradually.

As for the staff, he says he's not going to change that much, either. "There's a lot of loyalty," he notes.

As Isidro scans the busy shop, clipboard in hand, his eyes sparkle with dollar signs. "I never knew about this place up until about six days ago," he enthuses. "I got goose bumps when we walked in here. I've been here a day already and I love it! Everywhere I look there's opportunities."

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