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Petro Prices Not Such a Gas

While Rock Hill residents were enjoying a brief respite in August from high gas prices, Lake Wylie resident Troy Brown was still feeling the squeeze on his wallet.

Brown, who has lived in the Lake Wylie area for more than four years, says gas prices near his home recently swelled to over $3.80 a gallon for unleaded, before dropping slightly. What makes matters worse is when Brown travels through Rock Hill, he notices prices are significantly lower, sometimes by almost 25 cents. On Aug. 9, the Shell station on S.C. 49 was selling unleaded fuel for $3.65 compared to $3.47 at the Shell on Celanese Road in Rock Hill.

And while the difference is especially noticeable now, Brown says he has tracked prices in his area for years and has found that prices are on average are 10 cents higher than surrounding towns.

"I'm frustrated with the gas stations in Lake Wylie," Brown says. "I do everything I can to avoid buying gas in Lake Wylie."

That includes keeping gas canisters in his truck and filling them when he visits his daughter in Rock Hill. He often fills those canisters with up to 15 gallons of fuel at a time, enough for his truck and his wife's car. Brown even recently purchased a motorcycle to help cut down on gas costs.

"I understand some of these mom and pop outfits who don't sell a lot of gas have to stay high, but there's no reason why the chains should," Brown says.

Brett Bolton agrees. A Belmont resident who regularly fills up in Lake Wylie while visiting his girlfriend, Bolton has been forced to cancel summer vacations plans to the beach in order to save money. He also considered buying a motorcycle to cut costs.

"Right now prices are down, but gas prices are still high. It's ridiculous," Bolton said. "The majority of my paycheck goes to keep gas in my car."

One possible reason fuel costs so much in the Lake Wylie area could be where the individual stations buy their gas, said Kevin Burton, acting manager of the Grand Prix Gasoline on S.C. 49 and 274. Burton said many stations in the Lake Wylie area get their gas from Charlotte, which includes a higher tax, while stations in Rock Hill and Fort Mill may get gas from locations more south, such as Columbia.

"We have to buy fuel at a certain price and when fuel changes price so drastically every day, you lose," Burton ssaid. "It creates some hardship for us."

Burton said whatever price fuel is at when he needs to fill the station's tank is what they have to go with, regardless of whether the prices drop a few hours later. Also, he says it's impossible to fill only part of his station's tank and hope for a better price later, because it's not profitable for tanker trucks to do partial fills.

Adding to the price per gallon are credit card fees, Burton said. On average, for every credit card transaction he processes, the credit card companies make about three percent off the purchase. For example, if gas is $4 a gallon, almost 12 cents goes to the credit cards companies. Despite the high prices, he says customers are still buying gas and products from his convenience store, and he sees better economic times on the horizon.

"People still come here and eat and buy drinks," Burton said. "We are seeing a little bit of resurgence in local growth as well and I'm hoping the economy will come back."

At the Shell Xpress Mart on S.C. 49, employee Shady Drota says customers have been flocking to the station ever since prices drastically dropped from $3.99 a few weeks ago to $3.65. He says that's still high compared to a station he passed in Fort Mill selling unleaded for $3.54.

"I hope we go down more," Drota says. "The first day it went down all of the customers came in and filled up because they were afraid it would go up again."

In addition to gas prices increasing, Drota says the price of snacks and drinks at the mart went up as well.

Until fuel costs drop drastically in the Lake Wylie area, though, Troy Brown will still buy his gas elsewhere and find new ways to save money.

"We've combined driving trips and we try to cut costs however we can," Brown says.

Troy Brown of Lake Wylie says he takes gas cans to fill up when he goes to Rock Hill because the price of fuel at home has been 10 to 15 cents more during the past year.

"I've thought about protesting," he said.

Bob Farrington, area manager for Fortune 200 company Murphy Oil Corp., says the new 1,200-square-foot, 24-hour Murphy Express under construction on S.C. 274 near Bi-Lo will help.

"We're known for having the cheapest gas around," he saidm adding the company has 1,000 convenient stores in 20 states. "We tend to bring gas prices down.

"We've done it before, on average 20 cents lower in other areas," he said.

The new gas station, scheduled to open the end of September, will have 12 fueling stations (six pumps) and four diesel fueling stations, Farrington said.

Murphy USA chose Lake Wylie for several reasons after looking at the surrounding community, Farrington said, including the planned Wal-Mart Supercenter, which will be across the street at Mill Creek Commons.

"We do like to partner with Wal-Mart," he said, explaining Murphy USA is expanding to retail gas stations from kiosks in the retail giants parking lots. "Right now we're seperate, but we've always had a great relationship."

The store plans to hold a grand opening event with give-aways, radio fanfare and more. The company is currently in the hiring process, and will employee about 12 people, Farrington said.

"Our focus is on service to the consumer, and all employees will be in standard uniforms," he said. "It will be well lit and clean environment."

But the biggest pitch Farrington makes for the new gas station is price.

"We hope to make an impact," he said. "We like to lead the area."d