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Patience plummets at pump

September 06, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN

karenh@herald-mail.com

On one of the country's busiest travel days, Sharpsburg Pike Sunoco was nearly deserted.

Business was light at the gas station across the street, too, and traffic on South Potomac Street in Hagerstown was steady.

Inside Sharpsburg Pike Sunoco, the only person fuming about gas prices was owner Cliff Lapkoff. With gas prices soaring, people are not only filling their tanks less often, they also are putting off repairs and relying on plastic to pay the bills. Drive-off thefts of gas also have increased, Lapkoff said.

That's bad news for the gas station owner, who plans to get out of the gas business Oct. 1. Oil prices have hurt him, too, he said.

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"There's nothing here, there's nothing left," Lapkoff said of the business, where fuel prices Monday were $3.29 a gallon for regular unleaded gasoline.

A handful of customers filled up their tanks during the course of more than hour Labor Day afternoon, but Lapkoff said he won't see most of the proceeds.

Signs on the pumps and inside the station told the story: "To our loyal customers - We apologize for the price of gas. We do not have any control over the high price of gasoline. We are sincerely sorry."

A gas station clerk herself, Becky Seward, 23, of Hagerstown, said she understood.

That did not stop her from confronting Lapkoff after she learned he had raised his prices for oil changes.

As she stood on the pavement, opening and refolding a bill for more than $18, Seward explained she had just completed a shift at her own station earlier in the day and had not slept.

"I'm just grouchy today, I usually don't complain about prices of stuff. Just get it done," Seward said.

Rose Foldi, 45, of Keyser, W.Va., seemed resigned as she used a credit card to put $67 worth of fuel in her Jeep Grand Cherokee.

"It's ridiculous, but what can you do?" Foldi asked.

Lapkoff said he tries not to take people's reactions to the prices to heart.

"People are angry - not necessarily at me, so I don't take it personally - but people are just kind of angry at life right now," Lapkoff said.

They are not alone, the gas station owner said.

According to Lapkoff, as gas prices go up, he loses more of his profits to credit card companies, which charge 3 percent on every transaction.

Before the prices went up, about half of Lapkoff's customers paid in cash; now about 90 percent are mortgaging their Christmases by putting high fuel costs on credit, he said.

Oil costs have increased 33 percent, Lapkoff said.

Lapkoff said President Bush "needs to talk to the oil companies, not the gas station owners - they can't afford to put gas in their own cars."

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