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Costs delivered to your door

Andrew McDonald, 19, prepares to go out on a delivery at Village Pizza and Italian Restaurant in Fort Mill. Village Pizza recently increased its delivery fee, tightened its delivery area and is splitting shifts between fewer drivers as ways to fight the rising cost of gasoline.
Andrew McDonald, 19, prepares to go out on a delivery at Village Pizza and Italian Restaurant in Fort Mill. Village Pizza recently increased its delivery fee, tightened its delivery area and is splitting shifts between fewer drivers as ways to fight the rising cost of gasoline.

Rock Hill florist Jane Bailey wasn't happy about raising her delivery prices by more than a dollar at the beginning of the summer to accommodate the cost of gas. She quit sending her flowers to York, and her drivers now make trips to Fort Mill only for funerals.

The small business owner doesn't like the idea of going even higher on her prices, either.

"But my goodness," she said, "everybody else is."

Bailey, who has owned Jane's Creative Designs flower shop on Oakland Avenue for 26 years, isn't just talking about local florists. She's referring to any business that has a tank of gas to fill every day, as gasoline prices locally continue to inch toward $4 a gallon.

In York County, prices Tuesday were about 20 cents below the national average of $4.07 -- $3.80 at Petro Express on Cherry Road in Rock Hill; $3.85 at Sunoco on S.C. 160 in Fort Mill; $3.86 at Ricky's Food Mart on North Congress Street in York. Nationwide, prices have risen 34 percent from a year ago, according to a AAA survey.

Bailey's gas expense for her two company vans gradually has increased by more than $200 a month, she said, and she's been doubly hit by her own freight charges from places such as Miami, where many of her wholesalers are located.

"I wouldn't charge it if I didn't have to pay it," Bailey said about the prices. "It just trickles down. It's like a domino effect."

Other area businesses experiencing the gas crunch include restaurants that deliver and home-improvement services, such as painting or carpet cleaning.

Village Pizza and Italian Restaurant on Gold Hill Road in Fort Mill raised its delivery charge from $1 to $2 last month. Three or four drivers who used to share the weekend shift at the Fort Mill pizzeria have been reduced to two.

"And we stopped going into North Carolina," said Margie Love, who owns the restaurant a few miles from the state line. "We used to go way up there (to Charlotte). We've cut it back miles."

Drivers make $6 an hour and pocket their tips, Love said. They also earn back the delivery fee at the end of the night. But the four drivers at Village Pizza, along with many other drivers in the area, have to pay for their own gas, a price that has been climbing all summer.

One driver, Casey Cook, fills his tank three times a week for five days of work. He said typical delivery jobs don't cover the wear and tear of a car, so he also pays for regular oil changes, tire repair and other maintenance. He relies on tips to cover those expenses.

Cook's coworker, C.B. Byam, has seen tips go down in the past four years from the $5 to $6 range to as low as $1.50. As gas prices have gone up, he said, customers have become more thrifty.

"Gas is going up, and paychecks are staying the same," he said. "We're not getting a lot of compensation per hour, but it's not our restaurant's fault. It's gas."

The two drivers have found ways to save gas in their years at the pizza restaurant. They coast as much as they can, leave the car on during deliveries and even put their cars in neutral sometimes.

"We shouldn't have to, though," Cook said. "Gas prices are ridiculous right now."

Some area home-improvement contractors also are scaling back on where they offer services.

Professional painter Scott Callahan of Fort Mill likes to look professional in his lettered truck, for example, but the $80 per week gas bill for his V8 engine is forcing him to turn down jobs that would require driving too far.

With more than 30 years in the business, Callahan said he's never been hit so hard by transportation expenses, and competition against other contractors is tough. He hasn't worked in Rock Hill in three months, and he won't go to York anymore.

"It costs a fortune just to go look at a job in one of those places," he said. "It's a big racket, but you can't go up on people. They don't want to pay."

Chris Crosby, department manager for business administration at York Technical College, said businesses will need to find new ways to save money on gas. She suggested delivering items in bulk, making one or two trips a day to minimize back and forth routes.

"If they're going to end up in the black instead of in the red, they're going to have to keep being innovative," Crosby said.

So are consumers, she said. It's time for consumers to start juggling -- an act the florists, pizza shop owners and independent contractors have been practicing for months.

"It's a fact of life," she said. "We're in the denial stage. We're going to have to realize that high prices are here to stay."

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