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Shortage of gas is hurting stations

Lack of customers equal lack of sales

POSTED: October 1, 2008 5:01 a.m.
TOM REED/The Times

Motorists wait in line and next to their vehicles Saturday as a tanker truck makes a delivery at the BP station at Dawsonville Highway and Sardis Road.

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M.P. Patel and his son, Peter, have spent many anxious days awaiting news from their distributors that a load of gasoline is on its way to Lakeshore Texaco, their convenience store on Dawsonville Highway.

When the pumps are not pumping, business at the convenience store inside dries up.

"Our sales are down nearly 60 percent," said Patel, who has been in the convenience store business for 40 years, 30 of those in England. "But my mortgage is the same."

Patel’s story is not different from any of his competitors in the convenience store and gasoline business.

In a typical week, Patel will receive 45,000 to 50,000 gallons of fuel. This week, he’s hoping for 15,000. Tanker trucks are like the Pied Piper, when they drive into the station, a line of cars follows closely behind. A load of 5,000 gallons likely is to last only part of the day, Patel said.

He said some of his regular customers who come in daily for coffee, a soft drink or a snack still stop by.

"It’s good to see some faces," he said. "It’s good to know they’re safe."

John Cape, an executive with Olympic Oil Co., which owns the Petro Fast food stores in the area, has lived through the shortage after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but it was not as bad as the current situation.

Cape said the sale of merchandise in the store is 30 percent of the business, but is the profit center for a convenience store. The shutdown of the pumps virtually shuts down the flow of customers to buy a gallon of milk, a pack of cigarettes, a newspaper or a cup of coffee.

"This is a double whammy for us," Cape said.

He said a load of gasoline can last from two to five days, depending on the volume of the store.

"Rather than bringing in 8,500 gallons, this week we’re bringing in 1,500 gallons because we don’t have the gasoline," Cape said. "We’re on allocation from the oil company."

On Friday, the company’s station on E.E. Butler Parkway had a shipment when it opened at 6 a.m. By 8:30 a.m., that fuel was gone.

"This storm (Ike) is not as visible as Katrina, but it has caused just as many problems," he said. "They can’t get the product to pipeline. It’s not that the refineries were destroyed; there are just a lot of areas around Galveston and Houston that don’t have power."

Gov. Sonny Perdue’s office released figures Friday showing that there were 410,000 power customers, including some fuel production facilities without electricity.

Once power is restored, there is a start-up operation and a production time that requires days. Once the oil is refined into gasoline, the transportation in the pipeline require six days from the Houston area.

Perdue’s office said about half of the refineries are "back to normal" while the other half are at varying stages of returning to normal production.

On Friday, the governor extended a previous executive order that allows larger shipments of fuel into the state.

On Saturday, the number of stations without gasoline appears to be about the same. One station on Atlanta Highway was limiting purchases to $20 at a price of $4.09 per gallon. A Kroger fuel center on Winder Highway only had regular unleaded with three to four vehicles waiting in line at each of the pumps.

A station with gasoline is easy to spot, most have lines extending out into the road. When the tanks get filled, drivers flow in like ants to a picnic.

The gas shortage has hit hardest in metro Atlanta, Nashville, Tenn., and the Carolinas, including the Charlotte area and the mountain towns to the west.



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