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The head of an iconic West Virginia business has died.

John Dave Heater, chief executive officer and founder of GoMart, died Friday at 89. Heater helped pilot the GoMart chain after he and two brothers assumed ownership of the family’s gas supply business in the 1960s, according to the company website. That business supplied fuel to gas-powered paddle boats running the Little Kanawha River.

In 1970, Heater Oil installed the state’s first self-serve gas pumps and named the station Go-Tron. A year later, Heater Oil, now GoMart, christened a two-bay garage in Braxton County’s Gassaway store as the first store in the chain. Employees chose the new name through a contest.

Anyone old enough might remember the store’s ubiquitous jingle of the 1990s: “You got to go for bread/You got to go for pop/You got to go for momma/In just one stop.”

No other West Virginia-born business except Tudor’s Biscuit World is more iconic, particularly within the state’s borders. GoMart also does business in Ohio and Virginia.

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“The passing of John Heater is noteworthy,” said state Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts. “He took a small business and built it into one of the region’s most well-known names. John remained loyal to his hometown of Gassaway and embodied the values of a hard-working and dedicated family person.”

In the 1980s, GoMart added in-store cooking facilities and provided proprietary-blend beans that were ground on the premises, the company site said. The 1990s brought along pay at the pump and computerized registers.

In the early 2000s, store expansion continued. GoMart began incorporating beer caves into its stores.

By 2018, the chain had found a place on the Top 50 Most Effective Fuel Brands site. It ranked 41st.

“GoMart is a quintessential c-store chain operating in Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia,” the site said. “The customer base is working-class people employed in the timber, coal and natural gas industries. From locally made artisan products to West Virginia University apparel and live bait, GoMart’s competitive advantage is an extensive collection of products unique to its stores.”


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