Corner Gas Stations Battle It Out At Pumps

ROUTE 2 -- A weekly journey through Anne Arundel County

February 05, 1991

War flared briefly again at Jumpers Hole Road and Ritchie Highway last week. In a few hours of madness, Shell fought back with everything it had.

It was crazy. Imagine, dropping the price of regular unleaded to $1.079 -- 7 cents below cost and 2 cents below the price then being charged by the Exxon station diagonally across Ritchie Highway.

"Just clowning around," said Shawn Kingston, the owner of the Shell station, explaining the drastic price cut. He smiled and looked across Ritchie Highway at the enemy camp, Exxon, which in December declared a price war on the four corners where Exxon, Shell, Amoco and Chevron outlets compete.

Kingston had dropped his price to $1.099 that morning, undercutting the Exxon station by 2 cents. The Exxon matched it. That's when Kingston went nuts, ate his losses and dropped the price to $1.079.

He held it there for a day and a half. In that time, Kingston said, he sold about 8,500 gallons, more than twice the normal amount. People were stopping for two, three dollars' worth, Kingston said.

"I didn't understand where they were coming from," he said. He then raised the price to $1.159, while the Exxon station remained at $1.099.

"It wouldn't work in the long run," Kingston said. The price war, he said, is "not prudent business."

It was the most recent skirmish in a war declared when the Exxon station droppedits price for regular unleaded to $1.179 in December. Manager Jim Dean said in a published report at the time that he aimed to crush the competition on the busy corner.

The station's bookkeeper, who would not give her name, said the station "de-identified" its 87 and 89 octane pumps Friday. In gas station lingo, that means the station is taking the Exxon name off those grades and buying the least expensive brands it can find. Dean's bellicose comments aside, the bookkeeper said the move to less expensive brands is aimed at keeping the station afloat.

"The only way he can meet his bills is to drop his price," she said.

James Sprinkle, the Exxon attendant on duty yesterday afternoon, seemed alarmed at the thought of more press coverage. He said he's been running as fast as he can since the two grades were de-identified.

At the Chevron station, where unleaded regular goes for $1.139, the manager's wife, who also would not give her name, said the station is not getting mixed up in the price war. She said the Exxon outlet's moves hurt business a bit at first; then it picked up again.

"We're not in competition with Exxon because our customers know our gas station," she said.

Amoco sells unleaded regular for $1.149. No one there would comment on the four-corner price competition.

As far as Kingston is concerned, the war is over. Asked if the Exxon station's moves hurt his business, he answered emphatically, "Naaah. We're back to what we were doing before."

SOURCE: Arthur Hirsch


When Clerk of Circuit Court Mary M. Rose told me she would "debate" Delegate Charles W. "Stokes" Kolodziejski on his proposal to abolish clerk of court as an elected office, I thought she was only half-serious.

Tome, "debate" meant a formal intellectual skirmish, a la Lincoln-Douglass, Kennedy-Nixon, Bentsen-Quayle. Set up a podium, invite an audience. Make it an event. Surely, this wasn't what Rose, who had weathered some bad press over her decision to fire three longtime courthouse employees, had in mind.

But she made her position clear the following day, with a three-page news release formally challenging the Democrat from Carvel Beach to "a series of public debates." In the release, Rose asserted, "The roots of American democracy are in local government, and local government is closest to the people. . . . Maryland's democratic reform movement during the nineteenth century focused on securing both the independence and popular accountability of the Office of Clerk, the official entrusted with the people's most important records."

Hmmm. This sounded important.

Rose threw down the challenge for "multiple debates with Delegate Kolodziejski at forums all over Anne Arundel County."

The news release ended with a swagger: "Carvel Beach would be a great place to start. Stokes can name the time and place. I will be there."

Oooooo. Tough talk. Great stuff.

Therefore, you can imagine my disappointment when Rose told me there likely would be no debate. She said yesterday that the delegate told her last Friday the timing was not right for him to submit his bill. Rose said she, too, was disappointed, but she said her challenge was open-ended. "I will debate whoever, whenever someone wants to introduce it," she vowed.

Well, Kolodziejski said later yesterday that the issue is, in fact, not dead for this year. He said he decided to file his bill after talking to Rose last Friday; he said colleagues had eased his concern about whether such a bill, which would require the state constitution to be amended, should be filed in a non-presidential election year.

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