07/28/08 — High gas prices put strain on stations

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High gas prices put strain on stations

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on July 28, 2008 1:43 PM

Requiring customers to pre-pay for gasoline annoys many of them, but local gas station owner Craig Hanson says he has no choice but to ask for his money up front.

With gas prices having reached record highs, the number of people who got gas and drive off without paying increased markedly,
he said.

"It's not good business, but we had to go to pre-pay," he said.

Hanson, who owns the BK Mart in Mar Mac, explained that normally he makes about a cent of profit on a gallon of gas -- an amount that doesn't even cover operating expenses -- and if he has a drive-off, that loss comes out of his own pocket, not the gas company's.

"We had three or four (drive-offs) a month before the price went up. I changed (to pre-pay) before it got out of hand," he said. "It upsets people, especially when it's raining. We explain to them about pre-pay. A few older people have a problem with it, but most understand. It's not something you decide to do quickly, because the last thing you want to do it get somebody upset."

Fuel costs still high and people having cut back on their driving, gas sales dropped.

Even people who used to go out of their way to find a good deal on gas are now filling up for more just to stay closer to home, and when they do pull into a station, rarely are they topping off the tank.

"I put $100 in my wife's Suburban last time, and it didn't even fill it up," Hanson said.

And most of his customers are only putting in $20 or $40 worth of gas.

"I've heard several customers say they don't remember when was the last time they filled up the tank," he said. "Between winter heating bills and gas now, it's hard to swallow. Especially if you're below average income, it hurts even more."

And that, explained Jasmine Ortiz, the manager at the Friendly Mart on Indian Springs Road, is beginning to make selling gas as much a losing proposition as buying it is, because when people are hurting, she sees more drive-offs, more bad checks and fewer in-store purchases, including lottery tickets.

When the lottery first came out, the store made $800 to $1,000 a day on lottery ticket sales.

Now, the store is doing good to make $80 or $100 a day, and she believes that is because of the gas prices.

"We make our money inside," Mrs. Ortiz said. "And they don't buy snacks like they used to. They used to come in and order hot dogs. They don't any more. They just get gas and complain about the prices."

But at least they're paying. There are those who try to get their gas for free.

One man, she said, would come in about every other week, pump gas and drive off -- each time with an unpaid $70 gas bill.

Then there was the woman who came in a month ago about every two days filling up her Suburban SUV.

"She wrote a check each time for more than $100," Mrs. Ortiz said.

Eventually, the store discovered the account did not exist. Her unpaid bills amounted to more than $600.

"That hurt us bad," Mrs. Ortiz said.

Unfortunately, she said, pointing to a Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck pulling out of the parking lot, things aren't likely to get better anytime soon.

"It takes a little more than $100 for him to fill up," she said.

"Inflation is going to kill this country. You can't just continue raising prices," agreed Hanson, who remembers lines of vehicles waiting to get fuel during the gasoline crisis of the mid-1970s.

"I told myself, 'If gas goes over $1 a gallon, I'm never going to drive again.' But I was 16. What did I know?"