Sunday, April 27, 2008

Gas bargains hard to come by

Portland Press Herald

Mainers find slightly cheaper fuel in New Hampshire and look for decent deals closer to home.

By BETH QUIMBY, Staff Writer

April 25, 2008

With gas prices at $3.34 for a gallon of regular unleaded for club members, five cents cheaper than the statewide average in New Hampshire, waiting in line to gas up is making more sense after the price hikes of the past two weeks. It also explained why half of the vehicles pulling up to the 12 pumps had license plates from Maine, where the state gasoline tax is 7.2 cents higher than New Hampshire.

"I am probably saving $500 to $600 a year," Duncan Carson of Kittery said.

Carson figures he would pay 25 cents more per gallon if he filled his tank in his Maine hometown. So he waits to buy gas until errands take him to New Hamphsire. Buying gas at BJ's saves Carson $9 if he fills up his truck's 36-gallon tank.

Actual savings, however, may depend on timing. On Thursday, the average price of a gallon of regular gas was 9.5 cents lower in New Hampshire, according to AAA. Maine's average was $3.538.

Gassing up in New Hampshire is just one of the ways Mainers are coping with the escalating cost of gasoline. Others are carpooling for the first time, cutting back on errands and, for those who live far from the New Hampshire border, shopping for gasoline bargains closer to home. And bargains are often very short-lived. By Wednesday afternoon, BJ's prices had risen to $3.38 a gallon.

"Life is just a game of chess in this situation here," said James Sippel of Berwick, an attendant at the BJ's station. He said he and his wife have canceled a vacation to New Jersey this summer because of high gasoline prices.

Many Mainers used to long-distance commuting and the joys of unwinding alone in a car are biting the bullet and carpooling for the first time. Sport utility vehicle owner Yvonne Arnheim of Westbrook started carpooling this spring after watching her gasoline bills shoot up to $600 a month. She commutes daily from Westbrook to her sales job at Wentworth by the Sea Hotel in New Castle, N.H.

"It was ridiculous and there are tolls on top of that," Arnheim said.

When another Mainer joined the hotel staff, Arnheim said she jumped at the chance to carpool, which cut her commuting costs in half.

Others keep their eyes peeled for gas wars between nearby gas stations in the hopes that competition will drive down prices.

On Sundays, cars are lined up at the gas stations along Route 1 near the turnpike connector in South Portland. Every Sunday, the Mobil, 7-11 and Irving gas stations all lower their prices by 7 cents. None of the station managers knows exactly why or how the "seven-cent Sundays" came about, but they said they religiously observe it.

"We all try to stay the same," said Pauline McKinney, the manager at the Mobil station.

Drivers also can shop for cheap gas online, at sites such as, which tracks gas prices nationwide and in Canada. On Wednesday, the site said the cheapest gas in Maine was at the Big Apple convenience store and gas station in Sanford, where a gallon of regular was going for $3.43.

The low price draws customers away from the other stations in the area, said manager Jennifer Butler. She surveys her competitors and reports what she finds to C.N. Brown, the South Paris company that owns the store.

C.N. Brown tries to keep prices low in order to hold on to customers, said President Jinger Duryea. C.N. Brown operates the Sanford Big Apple store and 90 other convenience stores and service stations in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Duryea said company stores often wind up selling gasoline at a loss. On Tuesday, she said, the company's stations lost from a half-cent to 5 cents per gallon.

"I don't want to lose my customers. I worked too hard to get them," she said.

Dave Pratt of Shapleigh, who was filling up at the Sanford Big Apple, said knowing that he was buying the cheapest gas in Maine was not much of a consolation as he inspected the final tab on the gas pump after filling up his Toyota.

"Not when it costs me $50 to fill up my tank," Pratt said.

Pratt said he planned to use his motorcycle as much as possible this summer to save on his gas bills.

Which appears to be a wise strategy. By Wednesday afternoon, a gallon of regular unleaded at the Big Apple in Sanford had risen by 6 cents, to $3.49 a gallon.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

Copyright © 2008 Blethen Maine Newspapers

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