It's not just consumers feeling the pinch: Station owners say higher gasoline prices are squeezing profits.
Even as some of his customers shell out $50 for a fill-up, Philadelphia Getty station owner Jim Sullivan says he's not getting rich. His regular gasoline sold for $2.11 a gallon last week and of that, he made only 5 cents before covering his expenses.
"Look at it this way," he says. "If someone comes in and gets five gallons of gas - you're spending $11, $12 - that's a quarter I make."
Mr. Sullivan's lament is one echoed by service station owners across the country - and it may come as a surprise to consumers. As prices rise and gasoline sales hold steady, many stations are taking a hit. The reasons: With less change left after filling up, consumers are holding off on buying higher-profit items like snack foods or making auto repairs; and with many drivers willing to go out of their way to find the best deal, competition is fierce to keep gasoline prices low. Customers also are likelier to pay with a credit card, which further chips away at profits.
Indeed, today everyone from Wal-Mart to Wawa to the major oil companies sells gasoline, sometimes at a loss, to attract other business.
"With gas prices going up, people don't have extra money for that bag of chips, that two-liter bottle of soda," says Rick McBride, who operates a convenience store in Philadelphia next to a Texaco station.
Most gas stations sell anywhere from 80,000 to 200,000 gallons a month, with the average gallon marked up between 5 and 8 cents, says Paul Fiore, executive director of Service Station Dealers of America and Allied Trades, located in Bowie, Md. And some 70 percent of America's 130,000 retail gasoline outlets have convenience stores, which are threatened with sagging sales when gas prices rise, says Dan Gilligan, president of Petroleum Marketers Association of America (PMAA).