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Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Dion's founder leaves his legacy in the Keys

Lawrence "Larry" R. Dion, a bomber pilot in World War II who in 1948 started a fuel company with his wife that evolved into the first convenience stores in Key West, famous for their hot fried chicken, died Saturday at a Miami hospital.

He was 91.

Memorial services will take place at 1 p.m. Saturday at The Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea, 1010 Windsor Lane, a relative said.

A Massachusetts native who grew up during The Great Depression, Dion created a true family business after his service in the war, from a Duval Street appliance and tire and supply store to the service stations, which have become synonymous with fried chicken and all the trimmings.

Dion's Quik Marts number 12 from the Florida Keys to Homestead, Florida City and Naranja.

"I was in New York's Times Square talking to a policeman on a horse and we were talking about Key West," said Dave Banks, Dion's son-in-law. "He said, 'You ever eat that gas station chicken down there?'"

Banks, married to Suzanne Banks, Dion's daughter who is CEO of Dion's Quik Marts, on Monday remembered Larry Dion as a businessman devoted to his work.

"He was always in business mode," said Banks. "I don't think he had any hobbies."

Several years back, Banks was asked by his wife to drive her father around to all of the Dion's Quik Marts.

"It was Christmas Day," said Banks. "I said, 'What?' She said, 'Yes, he likes to do that.'"

Dave Banks, a retired federal agent who started out as a Key West police officer, made this offer to Larry Dion: I'll drive you, but only if we stop at an ATM first.

"We went to the bank and got 50 $100 bills, and we gave one to every employee working," said Banks. "Word got out that it was happening, and off-duty employees showed up in their work shirts."

Larry and Flo Dion, who met in 1943 while Larry was in flight training in Iowa and married Feb. 15, 1946, became a success story in post-World War II Key West.

Larry Dion started out working in his sister's drug store, and soon bought vending machines and ice cream delivery routes, according to the Dion's website.

Meanwhile, Flo Dion was a tailor working two jobs, at the drug store and at Mar-Ed's Department Store as a seamstress.

By 1948, the local Sinclair Bailey agent was wanting to retire.

"Contracts were signed and the rest is history," Dion's website biography says.

Larry Dion was big on diversifying his business portfolio. He bought the first of the family's planes in the 1950s.

Today, Dion Aviation runs out of a hangar at Key West International Airport, a federally approved Part 135 Air Carrier that offers on-demand charters in the United States and Caribbean.

The Dion family business survived the 1970s oil crisis by making a huge change.

Former A&P managers Neil Roberts and Rachel Cox were hired to help the Dions convert their service stations into full-fledged convenience stores, the company website says.

The new stores were called Cit Marts and quickly caught on.

In the 1970s and '80s, Dion's owned 25 stores.

Dion was predeceased by his wife, Flo, and son, Roger.

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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