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In Aftermath of Katrina, Independent Stations Anticipate Big Losses

NEW YORK -- Drivers aren't the only ones feeling the pain of high pump prices and scattered fuel shortages. According to an Associated Press report, independent gas stations are suffering, too.

The stations, which rely on traffic from people filling up their tanks to drive sales in their stores, on Monday were still counting their losses, which one industry group expected to be significant in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The marquee at a QuikTrip in Marietta, Ga., was blank and the pumps stood idle as clerk Star Payne bemoaned the slow sales in the gas station's convenience store.

"It will pick up when we get gas back," she told the AP Sunday, but quickly added, "we have not been given any time frame."

The bulk of the nation's 167,000 retail outlets that sell gasoline, including some that carry the names of big oil companies, are independently owned and operated. They rely on store sales to generate profits and generally only receive pennies on the dollar from gas sales, which are meant to drive traffic into their stores.

"This is a hundreds of billions of dollars industry, with the majority of profit coming from in-store sales," said John Eichberger of the National Association of Convenience Stores, which represents companies that operate 70,000 outlets that sell gasoline. "A lot of retailers have lost money."

Eichberger told the Associated Press that it was too early to give an estimate of the losses, but he predicted it would be "significant."

The hurricane damaged gas pipelines and refineries along the Gulf Coast and caused some supply and production disruptions. Panicked buying by motorists also has contributed to shortages at some stations in the South, along the East Coast and in the Midwest.

In Illinois, officials were trying to keep more gas stations from closing by relaxing some rules related to posting of prices, and station managers were trying to keep from losing more money by clamping down on gas theft.

In addition, the state's Department of Agriculture said gas stations with older pumps that are incapable of computing and displaying prices higher than $2.99 a gallon will be allowed to temporarily post half-gallon prices.
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