Mr. Singh came to New York from Punjab in northwestern India in 1981, following his older brother, Puramjit Singh. He washed dishes in a Queens restaurant before the two pooled their money, buying a gas station in Queens and two others in Manhattanville. He worked days; his brother worked nights.
At the time, crime in the area was high, and many drivers took their chances with an empty tank rather than stop at the Singhs’ stations, which were robbed at gunpoint with regularity, Mr. Singh said.
In the early 1990s, his brother was fatally shot during an armed robbery at the Queens gas station.
2 Gas Stations, and a Family’s Resolve, Confront Columbia Expansion Plan
As the Manhattanville neighborhood improved, Mr. Singh and Ms. Kaur managed to make a good living from the service stations, located in an old, industrial stretch near where drivers enter and exit the Henry Hudson Parkway. The family has bought a home in Astoria, Queens, and plans to send Amar, Mr. Singh’s stepdaughter, to medical school.
The family, however, said Columbia’s expansion plans had stalled plans to upgrade the stations, because banks are unwilling to offer loans to businesses that might be seized via eminent domain.
“They are a prime example of the American dream,” said Mr. Sprayregen, who owns a storage building that abuts one of the service stations. “It would be a terrible signal to other immigrants who look at America as a golden beacon if someone could lose everything they’ve worked for because someone more powerful covets their property.”