Nielsen Automotive, an institution in San Carlos that still offered drivers full-service gas and oil plus a complete repair shop, has closed after 76 years in business.
The brothers who operated it preferred to keep Nielsen’s open for a few more years but are only part-owners of the property with cousins who are not involved in the business and wanted to sell it.
Jeff and Chris Nielsen worked together at the service station at 888 El Camino Real for decades and closed it—abruptly—on Feb. 15. They put a chain link fence around the perimeter and have been working since then to clear out equipment, supplies, vehicles and memorabilia in preparation for a new owner. Signs on the fence were the only notice the Nielsens were able to give their customers that a business they’d relied on for generations had closed.
“It’s hard,” said Jeff, a skilled mechanic who came to work for his dad in 1976 right out of high school and ran the repair shop. Some customers have been upset to the point of crying. “All the people, they’re like family really. … They don’t know what they’re going to do. We don’t know where to send them that has full service and gives the service we have.”
Younger brother Chris Nielsen joined him in 1983 and takes care of tires, oil changes and other essential service. Of the future, he said, “I’ll probably go do something entirely different. It will be interesting to work a 40-hour week instead of a 100-hour week.”
Nielsen Automotive was begun by their grandfather, George Nielsen, whose son—also named George—later took it over. According to Jeff, the property was in a family trust, and after George the son died in 1993, his sister became the trustee. Then after she died in 2019, seven cousins, one of whom succeeded his mother as trustee, became the beneficiaries. Of them, only Jeff, Chris and brother George Nielsen wanted to keep the service station going. The other cousins went to court and succeeded in forcing a sale.
“We don’t deny them that they want their inheritance,” said Jeff, who is sad about the animosity that has resulted in the family but is now focusing on an inevitability.
Escrow on the sale of the property has yet to close, according to Jeff. He declined to identify the developer who plans to buy it, but says he’s been nice to work with and even offered help with moving.
Contacted about what will be happening on the site, the family member who is the trustee declined comment. “I’m sorry, I’m not interested in participating but you take care,” he said.
In retrospect, Jeff adds, it would have been wise to buy out the cousins’ share years ago. More recent negotiations were unsuccessful. “We just had no choice but to close,” he said. “I think it’s going to be okay. Like Chris says, it’s kind of liberating.”
Bonnie Regalia, owner of the nearby Birder’s Garden store, has been a customer for about 40 years and knew Jeff and Chris’s father. The Nielsens service both her personal and business vehicles, and have the keys and just come over and pick them up and bring them back. She doesn’t know what she’ll do now.
“They are such a resource,” she said. Regalia is so grateful to the Nielsens that she ordered an 8’ x 4’ sign she plans to hang onto the chain link fence where customers and friends can leave messages. The sign will say “Thank you Jeff & Chris for years of service. We will miss you.”
Photo Caption: Brothers Jeff Nielsen (left) and Chris Nielsen worked together at the landmark San Carlos service station for decades.