There appeared to be no better place to gauge the impact of higher prices than the local convenience store. I was principally interested in learning how higher gas prices effected customers, what …
There appeared to be no better place to gauge the impact of higher prices than the local convenience store. I was principally interested in learning how higher gas prices effected customers, what they might to be doing to save on gasoline prices nudging $5 a gallon for a story.
Brothers Andy and Atish Patel have run the Gulf Express station at the corner of Tidewater Drive and West Shore Road for 15 years. They not only know most of their customers by their first names but also what they’re looking to buy. Atish reaches for a couple of packs of Marlboros as a man enters. With a greeting Atish slides over the cigarettes and the man reaches into his pocket for a couple of bills. It’s been like this for years. Andy likes to think of his customers as family. He enjoys seeing their smiles and trading stories such as that of the woman who plunks four small cans of cat food and a gallon of milk on the counter.
She says her cat can be temperamental, even annoying, but not today.
“He’s a charmer, he’s hungry,” she concludes. She fishes into her purse to come up with the money and as Andy bags the purchases he talks of how customers who he believes hold down $1,000 a week jobs are faced with choices they never considered.
“Wish I was getting $1,000 a week,” says the woman. Another woman who has been playing the lottery Is on a streak. Customers take notice she is converting her winnings into more and more tickets.
Atish – he goes by the nickname Ed or Eddie because customers have trouble pronouncing his name – says the 6 cent difference per gallon savings between cash and credit payments has become the frequent form of payment. But the Patels have also seen a decline in gasoline sales since the meteoritic increase in cost. Andy put the drop at 20 percent.
As if on cue, a customer squeezes in and asks for four dollars on pump number two. He hands over a fist of coins which Andy doesn’t count before setting the sale for less than a gallon – maybe enough to drive 15 miles. The Patels see far fewer fill ups. Customers come in more frequently to get enough gas to get to work and back.
Another customer enters. He’s in a rush to get to his job as a Providence EMT and firefighter. He picks up on the conversation about work, saying he’s put in more than 70 hours this week because of staff shortages. He said he’s covered for posts in Warwick and Newport.
“That’s a lot of overtime,” says the woman feeding her lottery tickets into a digital reader. The man smiles, “Just completed a 24-hour shift,” he answers.
“And you’re going back to work?”
“Take it while you can get it,” he answers.
Gas isn’t the only product hitting new highs. Andy says costs in the store are going up across the board.
“Everybody has a fixed budget,” says Andy. He sees customers making choices between food and gas. It’s not a choice that his brother finds acceptable as gas is often what customers require to get to work.
“We try to keep it (cost of gas) as low as we can,” says Andy. Margins are small.
The woman playing the lottery asks for a couple of more tickets. Her luck has turned.
“Got to make back my investment.”
She rationalizes her spending on lottery tickets.
“Gave up smoking,” she says.
The sale of lottery tickets and cigarettes over shadows those buying gas.
The Patels aren’t judgmental. They go about filling orders greeting customers by name, making change, bagging purchases and easing the pain of high cost of gas even if it means counting a handful of coins.
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