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New Lenox boycott brings lower gas prices

Ronald WilsNew Lenox Township pumps gas Thursday Circle K Shell StatiU.S. 30 NelsRoad New Lenox.  |  Susan DeMar

Ronald Wilson, of New Lenox Township, pumps gas Thursday at the Circle K Shell Station at U.S. 30 and Nelson Road in New Lenox. | Susan DeMar Lafferty~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 27, 2012 9:30AM

Don’t let Tim Baldermann hear you say politicians can’t do anything to lower gas prices.

Faced with local gas prices 12 to 20 cents per gallon higher than neighboring towns, the New Lenox mayor went rogue this week. He accused local gas stations of price gouging and urged residents to boycott.

Local station owners may be squawking, but New Lenox gas buyers’ wallets were bleeding a little less as the numbers on at least some local pumps went backward for a change.

“The residents deserve credit for this. There was so much press and media attention to it,” Baldermann said Thursday night. “They will not need me to do this (call for a boycott) again. They can do it themselves now. What they did made a difference.”

At Monday night’s village board meeting, Baldermann urged New Lenox residents to boycott New Lenox gas stations. His thought: buy somewhere else and local prices would come down.

“As much as it pains me to say ‘Take your business elsewhere,’ I encourage you to take your business elsewhere,” Baldermann said Monday. “We need to exercise our right not to get gouged.”

Historically, prices in Frankfort and Manhattan have ranked among Will County’s highest. At the time, New Lenox had eclipsed them with prices ranging from $4.15 to $4.21 per gallon. Frankfort’s prices maxed out at $4.13, Manhattan was at about $3.90, and Joliet was averaging about $4.10.

At the BP Gas station at U.S. 30 and Cedar Road, in the heart of town, owner Abdul Basit dropped his per-gallon price 11 cents on Thursday to $4.06 for regular, but said he was losing four cents per gallon. An 11-cent savings for a 25-gallon tank puts about $143 dollars annually back into the pockets of drivers who fill up weekly.

He said he met with Baldermann on Wednesday and said the mayor does not understand the industry.

“If we are not the cheapest it does not mean we are price gouging,” Basit said. “A lot of different factors influence the price on a given day. You have to compare prices over one or two years.”

Basit said some weeks his prices are lower than neighboring towns, other times they are higher. He gets the wholesale price from BP’s corporate office every day, and it fluctuates from day to day, he said.

“Some days I make five or 10 cents a gallon. Some days I lose,” Basit said. “If I lose every day, I can’t pay my bills. I can’t pay my employees and I go out of business.”

By Thursday night the station’s price was back up to $4.15 per gallon.

Speedway spokesman Shane Pochard said the company is committed to providing the best-quality product at the best price.

Some motorists who were filling up Thursday afternoon in New Lenox said they were unaware of the mayor’s boycott call. They were buying gas where it was convenient, and if the price was low enough, they would fill up.

Danielle Pizzolato, of Channahon, was pumping gas at the BP, but not filling up. Gas is cheaper in her town, but she was running late and needed fuel.

“I usually use the Gas Buddy app on my phone to find the cheapest prices,” she said.

A couple of blocks west, at the Speedway station, business was brisk and gas was three cents cheaper.

“$4.03 isn’t a bad price,” said Ken Sitzberger, of Lockport. He heard about Baldermann’s boycott from a co-worker and said, “Absolutely, it was a good idea.”

Dan Bergeron, of Frankfort, disagreed, calling the boycott a “bad idea.” He stopped at this Speedway on his way to a New Lenox business. He visits Speedway in neighboring towns, too.

“I don’t know what the price is. It goes back and forth between towns,” he said. “One week Mokena will be cheaper, and the next week it will be Frankfort.”

At the Speedway station further west on U.S. 30 near Nelson Road, manager Ashly Whitfield said the price dropped from $4.12 on Wednesday to $4.03 on Thursday, but she wouldn’t say it was because of the mayor’s effort. She said she surveys the prices in the area, and sends the figures to the corporate office, which determines the price.

“Customers were asking questions about the boycott but it didn’t stop them from coming in,” she said.

John Moore, of Chicago, was filling his tank here. He travels to this area frequently and noted that the prices are much cheaper than in Chicago.

“I wait to fill up. I usually buy just enough to get by. Now that the price is down, I will fill up,” he said. “You try to save as much as you can on gas.”

Apparently, the Circle K Shell Station, just a block west from the Speedway, did not get the mayor’s message. Gas on Thursday was $4.15 per gallon, and most of the 16 pumps were idle.

Ronald Wilson, of the Cherry Hill neighborhood in New Lenox Township, was putting just enough gas in his pickup truck to get where he needed to go. He was unaware of any boycott, but agreed prices were too high.

“Gas companies should be able to go three years without raising prices,” he said. “They are raising prices on gas that they already bought, that is already in their tanks. I know they are not hurting.”

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