Station Owner Sues Cumberland Farms

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Station Owner Sues Cumberland Farms

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. -- A former Cumberland Farms gas station owner is suing the Canton, Mass.-based chain, alleging that it squeezed him out of business.

Paul Lazzaro, who ran an Exxon gas station, repair shop and U-Haul rental business at 730 Cochituate Rd. in Framingham, Mass., said Cumberland Farms intentionally denied a deal he had made to sell the business, cut his incentive programs and pushed up his fuel prices in an effort to take over the operation, MetroWest Daily News reported.

Lazzaro's complaint against Cumberland Farms has been filed in Norfolk Superior Court, said his attorney, Steven Bander with Boston-based Bander & Bander. Lazzaro, who claims he ran out of money and was forced to close the business last September, is seeking the purported sale price of his business plus attorney fees in the case.

"It's the little guy against Goliath here," Lazzaro said of his lawsuit.

Christen Graham, a spokeswoman for Cumberland Farms, confirmed the existence of the lawsuit, but declined to comment on the "ongoing litigation," the newspaper said.

In March, Cumberland Farms submitted plans to the Framingham Planning Board to discontinue Lazzaro's former auto repair business and U-Haul rental facility and in their stead, build a 3,240-square-foot c-store with new Gulf-branded gas pumps.

Cumberland Farms operates 1,100 locations in the Northeast and in Florida, and has sales approaching $3 billion a year, according to its Web site.

According to MetroWest Daily News, Lazzaro started the Framingham station in 1990 when Exxon owned the property. Exxon had offered him incentives -- or discounts off the wholesale price he paid for gasoline, -- because he sold so much fuel at his station located less than a mile from Massachusetts Turnpike Exit 13. The discounts, he said, were the only reason he could afford the rent for the place and still make a profit.

Since 1990, the property changed hands several times, but the companies that sold Lazzaro gasoline, including Tosco Corp. and Conoco-Phillips Inc., continued his incentives programs. Cumberland Farms, which bought the property in October 2003, discontinued the incentives, but did not lower his rent, he said.

Later, when Lazzaro had agreed to sell his business to Emmanuel Gregoriades for $785,000, Cumberland Farms, which had right of first refusal, denied the sale on the grounds that Gregoriades lacked "business acumen." But Gregoriades, Lazzaro said, had successfully run several gas stations in the past. Cumberland Farms' claim was "arbitrary and in bad faith," he charges in his lawsuit, MetroWest Daily News said.

The breaking point came when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast last August, sending gasoline prices soaring. Lazzaro's wholesale costs were running $3.27 a gallon, while the Mobil station across the street was charging customers $2.84. Lazzaro said the discrepancy killed his volume, and thus his revenue. "That was the nail in the coffin. I could not make any money on gasoline," Lazzaro said. "Every cent I had was in that place. They drained me, and I have kids to feed."

Lazzaro said if he wins the lawsuit, he would use the money to pay off debt and to buy the Mobil station he still runs in Plainville on Rte. 1, the report said.

Cumberland Farms, in its answers to Lazzaro's complaint, denied most of his charges.