The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 8, 2013

Escalating gas prices fuel concern

Edie Schmierbach
Free Press Staff Writer

— All of a local gas station’s pumps were busy the other night, filling SUVs as well as compact cars. When questioned about the recent jump in gas prices — up to about $3.60 a gallon — drivers muttered similar answers: “Whatcanyado?” “I don’t have a choice.” “ I have to drive to my job.”

Even if you’re not a driver who typically tracks gas prices very closely, the recent hike of about 20 cents in two weeks has most customer noticing.

Fuel Price Finder, an AAA online service, Friday listed average gas prices in Mankato at $3.59. A week ago the average was $3.49 and it was $2.99 just last month.

Businesses that make deliveries are feeling the hurt of high fuel costs, too.

“Gas prices are killing us and killing our drivers,” said Brittany Sorell, assistant manager for Domino’s Pizza on Riverfront Drive.

It’s not uncommon for a pizza business employees to use their own vehicles to deliver to hungry customers. Some aren’t paid per miles they drive; instead they receive a set amount per delivery, and responding to a North Mankato pepperoni lover’s call typically entails a 14-mile round trip.

“Gas prices are so high. We are paid per run, so it doesn’t add up,” Sorell said.

Sorell and the businesses’ other drivers did see a break Sunday. “Super Bowl was quite profitable,” she said. “We made good on tips.”

Susan Huang of China Town in St. Peter said despite the gas price increase, her family-owned business does not plan to raise its $1.50 fee to deliver throughout town.

Bouquet buyers may see an increase in flower prices this week, but it’s more about availability for Valentine’s Day than gas prices. Ruth Swenson, manager of Hy-Vee Floral Shoppe, downtown Mankato, said her business pays a flat freight fee. She doesn’t plan to increase her shop’s fee for in-town delivery for the holiday, but she will need to budget for the expense of three or four delivery vans constantly running Thursday.

Sometimes, higher gas prices can have a positive effect on business.

Over the years, Land to Air Express General Manager Jason Mekalson has noticed a pattern arise when fuel prices go up. “It takes a bit of time. Then people start thinking about being more efficient.” He’s seen an increase in the number of riders using his service to travel to Minneapolis/St. Paul and Rochester.

Land to Air’s 14 passenger shuttle vans use diesel, which had an average price of $3.55 per gallon in the state Friday. Mekalson has seen prices for that fuel rising steadily for about a year.

Mekalson expects to see people take more cost-saving measures, such as doubling up and carpooling if the pinch at the pump continues.

Normally, gas prices don’t rally until later this month or in early March, according to an NBC story out of Dayton, Ohio. Analysts say the early rise was due to several factors, including refineries closing or shutting down for maintenance and climbing crude prices.

Coupon clippers’ use of “10 cents off per gallon” appear to be rising as gas prices keep going up. An attendant at St. Peter’s Kwik Trip said she sees a consistent number of coupons being redeemed when people fill up their vehicles.

Some groceries stores have coordinated with local gas stations on cost-saving deals for their shared customers. Hy-Vee Food Stores provides Fuel Saver cards and Cub Foods’ offers a rewards promotion with discounts at the pump.

Karen Giesler of St. Peter is a member of two-vehicle household — one’s a four-wheel drive truck. She doesn’t see herself as an ardent coupon clipper, but she has learned to shop around when buying gas.

“Basically, we use gas coupons,” she said. “A little savings is better than none.”