Tom Robertson, owner of Tom’s Fuel & Mart convenience stores, will operate the store under the name Tom’s Orbit Express through a lease arrangement with property owner Fritz Harris.
Robertson said the name was chosen to honor Harris’ late father, Homer Harris, who opened a gas station under the Orbit name on 25th Street in 1969. Robertson said the new store should open within two months as a 24-hour, seven days a week operation.
The new and bigger store will measure 40-by-85 feet and feature a walk-in beer cooler kept at 29 degrees. Gas will be priced the same as Robertson’s other Fuel & Mart locations.
The original store operated under the BP brand. It was destroyed in August 2011 by a fire that claimed the life of 32-year-old Randy Lee Hammontree.
Robertson said it took a year to settle insurance claims, and work through government rules and regulations imposed on various levels.
“Everything takes so much time,” he said.
Robertson moved to Cleveland in 1981 and worked for Carter Distributing until 1993. After that, he worked for Kile Dodge until he opened his first Texaco Tom’s at 3003 North Ocooe St. in August 1995.
In June 1996, he added a second location at 1410 South Lee Highway and in April 1997, expanded to 1704 Wildwood Ave. S.E.
He parted ways with Texaco around 2002 and rebranded his small chain as Tom’s Fuel & Mart.
In March 2005, he bought the Racetrack Market at 2480 South Lee Highway.
Robertson’s daughter, Carey, joined the business after graduating from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and is now general manager in charge of inventory management, personnel and marketing, and can operate a cash register when needed.
“She can open a store at 4 a.m. and close it at 1 a.m. when she needs to,” he said. “Carey pretty much runs the business.”