Here’s one list a small business may not want to be on: the highest price gas in San Diego County.
With global demand for oil decreasing, and U.S. production increasing, gas prices are falling daily. Yet three county gas stations, according to gasbuddy.com, remain the highest cash price per gallon for regular gas. One would expect these stations to be in the outskirts, like Borrego Springs or Jacumba. Not so.
The Shell station at 3105 Del Mar Heights Road, just off I-5, has been number one on the list for weeks. On December 22, it was $3.50 a gallon, 64 cents higher then 7-Eleven just across the freeway interchange, $1.12 higher than county’s lowest — $2.38 — found at five of the county’s 11 Costcos.
I asked a guy pumping gas in his work truck from the Extreme Roofing company, why he was buying gas from the highest priced station in the county? “I noticed it was a little high,” he said. He had made a wrong turn off the freeway and was running out. He had planned to go to the 7-Eleven.
Masoud, the manager of the Shell, seemed surprised to learn he was the highest priced. He responded, “We have the highest priced rent in the county. $22,000 a month.” Also servicing the exclusive Del Mar Heights neighborhood was the 7-Eleven and, two blocks away, a Chevron station in the Del Mar Highlands shopping center posted at $2.82.
On December 20, holding the number two and three highest priced spots for over a week, were the two stations on Coronado. I visited both Valero and 76 on Orange Avenue, then both listed at $3.30 a gallon. An employee of the 76 Station, when ask why they are on top of the list, said, ”Because we’re special.” He would not elaborate nor provide information on how to reach the owner for comment. The Coronado Valero station employee said they don’t set the prices, the oil company does.
All three top-priced stations had one thing in common. They have mechanics working on cars. Shell’s Masoud said stations make more having a convenience store, rather than have a garage. “So our prices have to be higher,’ said Masoud. “But we provide the best in service and clean restrooms,” he added.
I asked five customers pumping gas in Coronado — four at Valero and one at the 76 — as to why they were buying high-priced gas. All five were tourists from out of town. To talk to Coronado locals, I went to the Vons store in town. Neil said locals don’t buy gas in town. He thought the stations we’re “spot zoned” by the distributors, a process where the price of fuel is micromanaged based on the nearby competition.
Marilyn said the high prices were because of the Coronado Bridge. Gas trucks aren’t allowed over the bridge and must deliver through Imperial Beach and up The Strand (Highway 75). Both said they buy their gas at Costco when they go into town.
Something else gasbuddy.com has shown — members of the military might want to buy their gas off base, rather than through the base exchanges, which are supposed to be cheaper than the retail market. For about a week leading up to December 20, the base exchange stations were much higher than all Costcos and some independents. With gas prices in an unprecedented free-fall, the base’s prices finally adjusted to within a few cents of off-base, lower-cost stations.
Perhaps because of the AAA report that, due to lowing gas prices, 98.6 million people will drive to holiday destinations this year (four percent more than last year). But the gas price free-fall may be temporarily over, at least until January 5. Gasbuddy.com sent out a text alert to its followers in North County on the evening of December 21. It read, “It appears gas prices may be raising in your area.“