Missouri Market Heats Up

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Missouri Market Heats Up

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. -- Two Cape Girardeau convenience stores have closed within a week, and another that had planned to open here has decided not to. Meanwhile, remaining store owners paint a gloomy market picture, pointing to shrinking profits and the prospect of Proposition A, which they say could make their situation more dire, the Southeast Missourian reports.

Proposition A seeks to raise Missouri's cigarette tax some 300 percent to 72 cents a pack from the current 17 cents; taxes on other tobacco products would triple to 30 percent of their wholesale cost. The higher tobacco taxes are projected to raise about $342.6 million annually. The money would go toward health-care treatment. But retailers contend that the tax is already having an adverse affect on store sales, and it could only get worse if the measure passes.

Dwight's Amoco and Wink's Mini-Mart in Cape Girardeau, for example, were forced to close about a week ago. Casey's General Stores Inc. announced Tuesday that it will not be building its first store in the city as previously planned. "I can't say why," Casey's spokeswoman Marty Beck told the Southeast Missourian. "It was a corporate decision. That's all I can say."

Eileen Gates, who owns the Amoco with her husband Dwight, was more open about why they decided to close their store. She said the full-service gas station hasn't been as profitable as it had been in the past. "The petroleum business in Cape has been crunched for several years," she said. "We've been here 19 years, and there have been a lot of ups and downs. But the toll it has taken has become just too costly to justify it anymore."

The Amoco had tried to adjust by adding a Quizno's sandwich shop and a carwash, but it wasn't enough. Now the Gateses will focus on those remaining businesses. Gates said the space that had been occupied by the gas station would be remodeled and converted into something else -- something that can make a profit. "This business has become so hard you can't pay the help you need and things like insurance," she said. "You can't make any money, no matter how much gas you pump."

Wink's still operates several stores in the Cape Girardeau area after closing its store.

Kwik Pantry Being Sold
A third Cape Girardeau convenience store, Kwik Pantry, is in the process of being sold. FFP Operating, which owns 166 convenience stores in the Southwest, is selling those stores, in groups or individually under sealed bids. Those bids will be opened Dec. 5.

The store's Cape Girardeau franchise-holder, Mo Abukhudeir, said he has a lease for another six years, when either he or the new owners can decide whether to renew it. "I might have to give it up to whoever owns it," he said. "But my store is not as busy as you think. It's my check-cashing business that helps. The inside sales and gas does not even pay my expenses. Business has been tough."

Abukhudeir said that with high gas taxes -- more than 30 cents of a dollar paid for gas goes to the government -- and increased competition, he is not interested in staying in the business much longer. "If they want to sell it to me, I'm not buying it," he said. "With the way things are, it's not worth a penny."

Jeff Maurer, vice president of business development for Rhodes 101, agreed that the market is "hyper-competitive." He said that his profit margin only reaches as high as 4 cents for each gallon the stations sell.

But Maurer says it won't work and will only hurt businesses like his. "People aren't going to quit smoking," he said. "They're only going to buy it somewhere else."

In Cape Girardeau's case, Maurer said, smokers can easily drive to Illinois to buy cheaper cigarettes. "It will have a twofold effect," he said. "Sales revenues will dry up, and border towns will go into other states to buy cigarettes."