Local/State News

Motorists welcome falling gas prices
May 24, 2005
By Cristina Rodriguez

Theron Alex bought a cherry ICEE for himself and another for his passenger to sip on in the heat Monday while he filled his Toyota Corolla with $1.98-per-gallon gas.

"I really couldn't afford too much of anything but buying gas," the Shreveport man said, remembering a few weeks ago when prices were dimes higher. "Gas was so high I had to cut down on anything, like buying cigarettes."

Now that average gas prices for northwest Louisiana are $2.05, below the national average of $2.12, consumers are feeling a wave of relief.

Average gasoline prices dropped 6 cents nationally between May 6 and Friday, following a slide in prices that began last month. Oil prices peaked at $57.27 a barrel at the beginning of April but are now hovering around $47 a barrel.

Several factors are contributing to the lower prices, including an increased supply of both crude oil and gasoline and the completion of some maintenance projects that had reduced capacity at the nation's refineries.

But even with prices going down, gas station owners are still embroiled in daily battles to see how low they can set prices.

Billy Darzeidan, owner of Otto's Benton Road in Bossier City, said he's stopped worrying about making a profit on gas. Sometimes he'll just break even or make a few hundred dollars profit on a load of gas that cost him $17,000.

The sacrifice helps draw in new people like Alex, and those people often use their extra money in the convenience store, Darzeidan said.

"If you lower prices, the customer comes inside and gets what he wants," he said between serving fried chicken and burritos during the noon hour.

Malcolm Hudson was also at the Otto's on Monday, but just to buy a Gatorade. He only fills up his pickup near his home in Greenwood, he said.

"It's up and down, but it's still cheaper," he said.

Motorists filling up on unleaded gas on Monday at the Flying J Truck Stop in Greenwood paid $1.89 per gallon.

"Our philosophy is as a company we will not be undersold," said manager Kerry Lake. "So every day we go out and do a competitive price survey. If there is somebody lower than us, obviously we match them, or if we can, we go below them."

Fuel and merchandise sales are "up substantially" at the truck stop compared to this time last year, he said, even though prices were about $1.80 in early summer last year.

"It's probably because we're so much cheaper," Lake said.

That directive comes from Ogden, Utah, at the Flying J's corporate office. For the past two years, the surveys collected every morning have been plugged into a computer, then the company decides what that day's price should be.

"We don't make the decision to lower the price or not," Lake said. "We're not privy to if we're making money on the fuel or not."

As a result, the Flying J broke the $2 barrier about six weeks ago. Prices fell below $1.90 last week, he said.

"We're getting a lot of good customers out of this, and if we can treat them good, they'll be back," he said.

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©The Shreveport Times
May 24, 2005

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