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Love and learning abound at Wisconsin's only Black, woman-owned gas station.
Through the years, a little community has developed around the BP station at Atkinson and 8th.
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By: Katlin Connin
Posted at 5:28 AM, Mar 09, 2022 and last updated 11:30 AM, Mar 15, 2022
MILWAUKEE — She was the only female, Black gas station owner in the state of Wisconsin. Now, she’s passing on the torch to another Black woman.
The shop at the corner of 8th and Atkinson serves a lot of people every day.
“I’m going to say somewhere – I don’t know, 300?” guesses Diane Stowers, the former owner of the business.
“Yeah, business has been really good!” replies Kai Trimble-Lea, the woman who bought the gas station.
Diane bought the gas station with her husband 31 years ago. When Jimmy died in 2004, she started running it on her own.
And through the years, all those customers became a little community.
“If you’ve got someone at the back of the line and they don’t have enough money, someone from the back of the line will pay for their stuff,” Diane says. “A lot of that goes on.”
Dale Grayson has worked for Diane for 15 years. He says she is the reason that community developed.
“She’s like a mother, she’s wonderful,” he says. “We deal with people of all walks of life and she comes in contact with them, some have problems, and she helps them out.”
Diane has loved running the business, but she’s also ready for some rest. That’s where Kai comes in.
“I have a partner! I have someone that I can hold up and support,” Diane says. “I have help!”
“I’m proud to be a part of this, it’s definitely a big deal to me,” Kai says. “I want to do all I can to just make this as great as possible.”
Kai took over from Diane in October, but Diane has stayed on to help.
“She has taken my hand and walked me with these baby steps into where we are now,” Kai says. “And I tell her all the time, ‘you know, you can’t go anywhere! You know you’ve still got to stick around!’”
Customers call Kai “Little Miss Diane,” because she takes the same time getting to know people. She’s working hard to build in the success Diane created – including adding a new coffee bar and starting up the Kwik Bitez Kitchen.
“We opened it up and made it sort of bigger and brighter for everyone and hopefully, like I said, the goal is to just have everything everybody wants. This is like a one stop shop,” Kai says.
“I believe she’ll take it to the next level, where Miss Diane left off,” Dale says. “I believe Kai is going to take it to another level, a real good level.”
Kai is proud to take over for Diane as the lone Black woman gas station owner in Wisconsin.
But she’s also grateful.
“She lifted me and my goal is to take somebody else and lift them,” Kai says. “I really want to give others the opportunity, if they want to be in the field, to own gas stations.”
“You can limit yourself in thinking that you can’t,” Diane says. “But you can do whatever you’re willing to work hard at, put your mind to, and just do it.”