I received an email today from someone whose parents have owned and operated a few gas stations over the past several decades. At least one of these stations was located in a transitional neighborhood in a major urban center on the east coast. This individual has been watching the debate over a station on Maryland Ave with great interest. I thought I'd go ahead and re-post the email because the author 1. clearly researched the issue a great deal, 2. has no real horse in this race, and 3. is in a position to know about the economics and everyday realities of owning and running such a store. Brackets indicate editing on my part. The thoughts and opinions below are those of the author, not mine. So here you go-
1. [Residents of the immediate area have a] vested interest in keeping out a 24/7 gas station that will have its lights on all the time. But lights are necessary to discourage crime. Of course, it doesn't actually stop it from happening all the time.
2. More gas stations in the area introduces price competition, which means cheaper gas for everyone. I don't understand why gas is so expensive in DC. It's always much cheaper to buy it outside of the city. Situating a gas station means clustering for better price competition which is ultimately best for the consumer. Another gas station in the area will actually likely be a good thing for gas pricing.
3. If the existing gas stations have a problem with crime, they need to speak to the police department and get a larger presence there. Post signs that say no parking for longer than 30 minutes for non-employees or something like that. Regular visits by policemen do make a large difference in loitering and robbery. Police cannot be everywhere at once, but a regular presence does make a difference. As far as some of the statistics cited for crimes at gas stations on the protest site, what kind of theft? People not locking car doors and having something lifted? (Their own carelessness.) Or people driving off without paying for gas? (Which is extremely common.) Or do they mean an actual mugging? Sorry to sound like I'm splitting semantic hairs here, but theft from a vehicle shouldn't happen if people lock up. Was it from a parked employee car or at a pump under the canopy light? Or in a parking lot behind the station?
4. Crime only happens if you tolerate it. If the existing gas station franchisees have a problem with crime and you as a consumer will not shop there, write to the gas company they represent and tell them why you won't shop there. Yes, they care. They send out secret shoppers to monitor their stations. Be a proactive consumer and complain. It will get back to the franchise owner. Believe me. It does and they do get dinged for it when it comes time to buy other franchises or by scores and incentives for a regional area.
5. Most gas stations are franchises, though I hear in DC-proper that's not necessarily true. The cost to develop the land is almost always borne by the gas company and then rented back to the franchise owner at a very high price. You can complain to DAG all you want. When they give up, the gas company will find another franchisee to take the spot. It's DAG now, but Shell Corp most certainly is backing them up on this and if it's not DAG later, it will be someone else.
6. Retail gas in DC has approximately 10% margin on gas, which is atypical. In most other areas of the country, it's about 3-5%. Because there is a lot of government/business reimbursement for fuel here, they can jack up the price. The gas as loss leader model does not hold up here, but convenience store sales are gravy on top.
7. I am a little confused about where tax incentives are to the gas station (Someone mentioned this in the comments). From what I saw on the protest website and the Examiner article (Which was a little thin) there wasn't anything about tax breaks. Gas stations pay quite a lot in taxes as do most businesses. Do you want the tax revenue to DC or not? As a city park, there is no revenue being generated by that land. (Nor does languishing undeveloped property bring in much.)
8. Example of costs in running a gas station:
-Good faith money to the gas company: $200K+
-Start up costs to staff, train, uniform employees
-Taxes on the gas
-Cigarette, snack and beverage taxes (where applicable)
-Rent on the gas station (Easily in the low $10K's per month, but that's just a guess, and an indirect property tax paid)
-Multiple phone lines to run the credit card lines, phone line, fax line, lottery, ATM machine. (That's at least 5 lines all paying telecom taxes)
-Electrician for extra wiring for ATM, lottery machines and phone lines
-Utility bill for running lights and refrigerators 24/7/365
-Business taxes, licensing
-General insurance policy of at minimum probably about $2 million
-Trash disposal (minimum of a 4yd)
-Alarm system for fire and robbery
9. To address the environmental issue someone mentioned, there would be double hulled tanks and testing wells sunk in to the ground some distance away from the property to ensure there is no leakage from the tanks. These monitoring wells will be about a foot wide or less and situated in varying distances away from the stations. As far away, or further, as across the street. I don't know what DC has in terms of oversight, but that's what it's like in PA. (We're talking "across the street" as in a 4 lane road.) Residential property owners around the station may also have a well sunk onto their property.
10. As the question of people's livelihoods, I can tell you that a franchisee (DAG) with over 30 gas stations in operations is likely doing quite well and deserves no sympathy.
11. As to the question of livelihood for store employees, it's a minimum wage job with a shift differential pay for nights and weekends (maybe). It's transitional work for college kids and new immigrants. No one stays for long, nor should they. There's no health insurance or retirement for employees. It's a tedious job and no smoking allowed.
12. FWIW, DAG is African-American owned. His political contributions, clearly Democrat