Caught in the retail gas war crossfire

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

People used to pull into this mom and pop operated neighborhood convenience store and gas station a lot more frequently. I still do at least once a week.
The one down the street stopped selling gas several months ago.
“I don’t know how long we’ll be selling it,” said the owner and also the clerk.
Stores have to pay for maintaining the tanks and getting them and the pumps inspected, and they have to pay for all kinds of permits. Then they pay for the gas, and try to make a little money on it, maybe a few cents a gallon.
Most of their income is from selling items in the store.
“I don’t sell enough of it,” said the clerk when we started to talk about gas prices. I have known her for about a decade.
This a store where parents can still send their kids to pick up eggs and milk. The owners are there all the time. They know almost everyone who walks through the door.
One time, my father-in-law took my daughter down there to buy her some candy. The clerk saw him for the first time. She had known my daughter for years.
She began to question my father-in-law. Then my daughter told her that he is her grandpa, and the clerk stopped the inquisition.
It’s a place where I stop on Tuesday mornings for a breakfast taco, coffee and gas. This store has been selling breakfast tacos way before the giant convenience store chain began serving them.
It’s $1.29 each, but you only get whatever the clerk decides. On Tuesdays, it’s egg and sausage. No choice. By 8 a.m., they are usually all gone, and she doesn’t make anymore. I get there around 7 a.m.
This is the old-fashioned convenience store/gas station concept, but the nature of the retail gas business has changed things drastically.
The owners cannot match the big boys’ prices, and the big boys are always trying to one-up each other. This small operation gets lost in the shuffle, shoved aside.
Gas here is usually 4-5 cents higher than at big chain stations. I know what the owners of this store will do with their income because they live in the neighborhood. They’ll do the same thing I do -- spend it locally on things like groceries, bills, mortgage, their kids, the usual.
So, at least once a week, I set aside my bargain hunter mentality and fill up a car with gas at this little neighborhood store.
But I also get caught up in the retail gas wars. Big convenience store chains and supermarket chains with gas stations are slugging it out daily for customers, and they offer deals that are hard to resist, like 10 cents off per gallon for every $100 spent in the store, up to $1 off per gallon.
That is hard to resist because we have to buy groceries, anyway. The last time I cashed in my chips there, I filled up two cars and saved a total of $14.
When gas was cheaper, the price difference didn’t make such a big splash in many people’s minds. But when gas sells in the $3.50 per gallon range, the difference is significant and hard to resist.
Here is what I am going to do, though. I’m still cashing in all my discount chips at the supermarket with the gas station.
But at least once a week, I am going to continue to ignore the deals and the big numbers towering over the chain gas stations on the main drag, and I fill up my car at the little neighborhood store, as long as it keeps selling gas.
On Tuesdays, it’s sausage and egg tacos for breakfast, even though I am not supposed to eat egg. Once a week won’t hurt.
I forgot to mention that there is only one type of coffee -- caffeinated.