Fuel Price War in Washington

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Fuel Price War in Washington

ELLENSBURG, Wash. -- One dropped gas to less than $1.20 per gallon. The other parked a trailer and stacked signs atop it to block his competitor's ultra low prices from view.

The owners of neighboring gas stations in Ellensburg, Wash., tell distinctly different stories of how a feud between them began, but certainly there is no love lost between Gurmit Kaila, owner of the Big B Mini Mart, and Jesse Singh, owner of the Astro gas station, according to the Daily Record News

"He sent a message to us that he was going to put us out of business," said Singh, whose Astro station cannot afford to keep prices as low as the $1.20 level Big B has offered recently.

Losing business, Singh parked a tall trailer in front of Big B's price sign and stacked cigarette advertising signs on top of that to block the prices from view. "I had no choice," he said. "I'm just trying to survive, myself."

Singh also said Kaila had been trying to put Astro out of business from the beginning by keeping prices slightly lower. The recent drops to the $1.20 level were an escalation of that.

Kaila's side of the story, predictably, varies in several respects from Singh's, the report said. Kaila claims he only lowered his prices so drastically in order to draw business after Singh blocked his sign. "I have no choice," he said. "Nobody can see me from the other side," which is the side coming off Interstate 90.

Cars have packed the Big B lot waiting for the cheaper gas, and Kaila claims to have tripled his gas customers. He's selling the gas at cost, though, so he has to rely on other sales. "I sell quite a bit of diesel," he said.

Kaila claimed he is prepared to keep selling gas at cost for five or 10 years if he has to. "Now they have a choice: move the sign or this is going to be the end of one of us," he said.

The city of Ellensburg has become involved and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, which owns the land, may still have some word in the dispute, said Brandi Eyerly, a city planner. Eyerly sent Singh's company a letter from the city, asking him to take the cigarette signs off the top of the trailer because they were in violation of city code. It's not that blocking a competitor's sign is specifically against the code, but stacking signs on a trailer is, she said.

Singh has not yet received a letter informing him to remove the signs, but said he would comply with the city's request. "I always go by the law," he said.

The dispute remains unsettled, but customers don't seem to mind the low prices. "I've been coming here for the last three days," said Aaron Briet, of Ellensburg, as he pumped Big B's cheaper gas. "This is excellent."