Motorists willing to idle for gas at $1.20 a gallon Parkville station sees reward of lower price

June 20, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Wearing a dark, formal suit, Robert Jenkins sat at the wheel of his car for 15 minutes for what most motorists would consider a bargain -- regular gasoline at $1.19.9 a gallon -- but he viewed as a matter of principle.

Fourteen vehicles were lined up at the pumps of the Excel gas station and garage in the 1700 block of Taylor Ave. in Parkville on Tuesday, their drivers willing to endure the heat and humidity for a price.

Lines have formed there every day since last month, while other stations were charging $1.25.9 to $1.39.9 a gallon for regular, and up to 20 cents more for premium.

For Jenkins, 25, an unemployed Westminster resident, buying at Excel meant more than a bargain -- it amounted to a sort of personal revenge on big oil companies and brand-name stations.

"If they [Excel] can charge this much, the others must be bilking us. It's the principle of the thing," Jenkins said.

Others in line said they had the time, and figured saving a dollar or two was worth the wait.

"I don't have anyplace to go," said Tammy Fischer, 33, of Rosedale, shrugging off the wait as she and her son, Matt, 8, pulled up to the pumps in her Chevy Blazer. "I like it," she said of the prices, noting that a fill-up costs her $30.

With a gasoline tanker blocking access to one side of the single island of pumps during its daily delivery, cars were lined up in the eastbound curb lane of Taylor Avenue, approaching the station.

Inside the small station office, brother-owners Glenn Kuntzman, 39, and Robert Kuntzman, 42, were busy -- and happy.

"When we first bought the station two years ago, they were selling 2,500 gallons a month. Now we're selling 200,000 gallons a month," Glenn Kuntzman said, noting plans to add pumps soon.

Business has always been good, the younger Kuntzman said, but things really started jumping last month when competitors' prices went up and a local television station aired a story on the Excel station's lower prices.

"That certainly helped us," he said.

But the Kuntzmans were not taking a bath on gas profits for the sake of publicity and the extra repair business it might generate.

"We're making money," Glenn said, "10 to 15 cents per gallon."

The lower prices are possible because the Kuntzmans are buying gasoline on the spot market -- so-called "unbranded" gas sold by refiners to wholesalers to independent stations. It is pumped without the additives advertised by national chains and without the prices major oil companies provide their name-brand stations.

Marvin Bond, spokesman for state comptroller's office, said spot prices are lower when supplies are plentiful -- as they are now. "When there's short supply, spot prices go up," he noted.

Outside, Vernon Gray, a Baltimore County police officer assigned to the Towson Precinct, steered his Chevy Cavalier toward a pump. "I drive 100 miles a day," said Gray, who joined the county force recently after 22 years on the Baltimore City force and commutes daily from York, Pa. "It's not a big deal," he said of the price savings. "I have a few minutes."

The Kuntzmans say the last month has been tough but worth it. Glenn hasn't been able to see his wife or three young children much, but the former auto parts clerk and his mechanic bachelor brother said the station is their first shot at owning a business.

"It's longer hours, but it'll pay off," Glenn said.

A quarter-mile to the east, at a Shell station that is the Excel's closest competitor, Woody Pittman, 25, was the only customer buying gas. He said he tried to fuel up his faded red Chevy Nova at Excel, but "I didn't have time to wait." So he opted for the Shell station's fuel at $1.34.9 a gallon.

"It's slowed things a little bit," Manager Julie Redman said of the prices, "but we still have a lot of regulars, and our credit cards give rebates."

Pub Date: 6/20/96

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