A 30cm knife was used in the armed hold-up of the Leycester St BP service station in Lismore on Sunday night.
Richmond Local Area Command inspector Doug Connors said at about 7.50pm a man entered the service station armed with the knife and demanded money and cigarettes from the console operator who was working alone at the time.
The service station owner Shahz Rana said the thief escaped with only cigarettes after failing to open the till.
"The offender asked the console operator to hand over the money, and he tried to do it himself, and he panicked a bit and just grabbed the cigarettes and ran away," he said.
"He doesn't look like a professional at all."
The man was described as being of Aboriginal appearance, about 180cm tall with a solid build. He was wearing a black zip-up jacket, dark pants and had a white cloth covering his face and a dark cloth covering his head.
He escaped on foot.
Mr Rana said the console operator was "a bit shaken" but uninjured.
"He's alright, he's a bit shaken but he held his nerve and all that and proper training we give them, like whatever they demand, just obey it, so that's what he did," he said.
Mr Rana said it was the first time an incident like this had occurred in the eight years he had owned the service station.
"This is the first time it's happened," he said.
"We've already got security measures in place but we will look at reviewing that now and see what else we can do.
"Normally we close up at 8 o'clock so we never think it's something that's going to happen.
"But yesterday was cold weather and not many people around, so they just take advantage."
Police are calling for anyone with information to contact Lismore police on 6626 0599 or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.