Shell Dealer Protests With $4 Gas

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Shell Dealer Protests With $4 Gas

SAN FRANCISCO -- A Shell station operator is protesting what he calls unfair treatment of independent operators by oil companies -- and he's using gas priced at more than $4 a gallon to do it, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Specifically, station operator Bob Oyster is pricing regular gas at $4.33 a gallon, and $4.53 for "V-Power" -- even though the Chevron station across the street is selling regular gas for 70 cents less.

Oyster, a respected local businessman who turned a single station into a successful firm in Redwood City, Calif., said the high prices aren't about making a profit, but rather are meant to send a message to the multinational corporation. When Shell forced him to pay higher prices for gas in San Francisco and started asking for $13,000 a month in rent -- 15 years ago, it was $1,000 -- he decided to fight back.

"I got fed up," Oyster told the Chronicle. "It makes a statement, and I guess when people see that price they also see the Shell sign right next to it."

Oyster, who has run the station for 22 years, is going out of business at the end of the month. He expects Shell officials to shut the station down.

"I'm getting nothing for the station," he told the paper. "They told me they were probably going to just fence it and bulldoze it anyway."

His situation is similar to that of many independent operators who are struggling to stay in business while the oil companies are making record-book profits.

"The dealer can no longer be competitive," Dennis DeCota, executive director of the California Service Station and Automotive Repair Association, told the Chronicle. "The companies are squeezing these guys out. Bob's tired of it, and a lot of us are. It's just wrong."

Shell spokeswoman Karyn Leonardi-Cattolica said many of the company's sites are independently owned -- in fact, the number is increasing.

She didn't comment on rent increases to Oyster's station, but in the past she said: "To the extent that rents went up, it was to bring them in line with the rest of the market," the Chronicle reported.

But DeCota and Oyster have another perspective: If dealers like them leave, then Shell and other companies like it, can run stations with their own employees and set their own gas prices.

"That way they really are controlling it from the well head to the gas pump," DeCota said. "Once the gas companies get control, you are going to pay the price."

The independents have more than rent to worry about. Oyster told the Chronicle he has other stations in the Bay Area where he can pay for gas up to 20 cents less per gallon then what he has to pay Shell in San Francisco, but that Shell won't let him buy gas where he wants.

"Shell would rather put us out of business," he said.

Despite a location just off the entrance ramp to Highway 101, Oyster isn't getting much traffic. A Chronicle reporter stood at the curb of the station for 20 minutes before seeing a customer. Even then, once he mentioned to the driver that the Chevron across the street had much lower prices, Oyster lost another customer.

While gas prices are getting the attention, Oyster said that it's the extras, such as snacks, drinks and other items, which make the independent dealers money. But in his case, a small lot and automated pumps limit him to three gas pumps and a small cashier kiosk.

"All I've got is gas and cigarettes," he told the Chronicle. "And you can't sell that many cigarettes."