In 1932, Richard Kyer opened a gas station at Cedar Avenue, one of the main streets in Cleveland's growing African-American neighborhood, and East 79th Street. In its early years, Kyer's Shell Service was a one-room station that attracted black neighbors and white commuters heading to and from Cleveland Heights.
Despite the Depression, by 1939 Kyer had expanded his business into a full-service station with six employees and three buildings, including a tire and battery garage. Motorists could get a car battery from $3.19, simonizing for $3.75 and a car wash for 75 cents.
"The East Side's Finest Negro Owned Service Station," read Kyer's ad in the May 18, 1939, Call & Post. Competition for that title was fierce. Alonzo Wright's station on Cedar Avenue — where Jesse Owens worked in the summers before his victories at the 1936 Olympics — led all Sohio stations in 1934 sales.
Allen E. Cole, Cleveland's leading African-American photographer, took this photo of Kyer's station. "Cole collaborated with his subjects to articulate a visual form of racial uplift," wrote Deborah Willis in a 2012 book, Through the Lens of Allen E. Cole. "In his photographs, elegant, dignified people in stylish clothes meet his gaze."