The re-opening of a gas station at 31st Street and Maple Avenue in Brookfield spurred a price war Nov. 9 that led to long lines at the pump, snarled traffic and gave significant discounts to customers who managed to get gas before it ran out.
Dipak Bhatt, who recently leased the Shell gas station at 3100 Maple Ave., said the store re-opened for its first day of business Nov. 9, and he dropped his price for regular gas at the pump by a couple cents as a promotion to draw customers to the location.
“It was our first day, so we wanted customers in,” Bhatt said of the price reduction, which began at about 1 p.m.
He said that after dropping his price, he noticed the Maple Quick Mart Clark gas station across the street began dropping the price for regular fuel at the pump.
“I dropped it 2 cents and [then] he dropped 6 cents,” Bhatt said.
Over the afternoon and into the evening, the owners of both gas stations continued to reduce their prices, leading to prices for regular gas that fell below $2 a gallon.
Randit Singh, owner of Maple Quick Mart, 3045 Maple Ave., said that the reason he dropped his price initially – and why it kept falling – was simple: competition.
“If someone drops the price, you drop the price,” Singh said. “If you don’t drop the price, no one will come here.”
The low prices drew the attention of motorists in the area and the eight pumps at both stations were soon full, with more drivers waiting in line to fill up. According to Lt. James Episcopo of the Brookfield Police Department, police were called by several people about the traffic situation at Maple Avenue and 31st Street.
A Brookfield police report said callers complained that falling gas prices between two gas stations was leading to cars blocking the intersection as drivers waited for their turns at the pump. A police officer who investigated the complaints reported traffic was moving fine at the intersection.
The owners of both gas stations said they eventually ran out of gas. Singh guessed he sold 8,000 gallons of gas on Monday at Maple Quick Mart while Bhatt said he guessed he sold 7,000 gallons.
Singh said he ran out of gas for about a half hour on Monday before prices were restored to the area average. Bhatt said he was without gas for about the same amount of time on Tuesday morning as he waited for refueling.
Both men said they have extensive experience in the gas station business. Singh has owned the Maple Quick Mart for 21 years. Bhatt owns a Citgo gas station in Hillside and has worked in the industry for about 20 years.
“If you have cheaper competitive gas then they come into the store and buy something,” Bhatt said of the reason for keeping pump prices low.
Both men said they lost money on the fuel feud, with prices at Maple Quick Mart reaching a low of $1.80 per gallon for regular and the price at Shell falling to $1.83 per gallon.
Sales inside the store are more lucrative for gas stations, according to both owners, than the money they make on gas, which typically isn’t much. However, Bhatt said in-store sales were low Nov. 9 because people weren’t coming into the store to shop, due to the long lines the price war created.
“Generally, it wasn’t good for business,” Bhatt said.
But, he added that it brought in a lot of customers for gas and he felt more people know that the Shell station is back open now.
Neither owner has plans to drop prices that low again anytime soon, but it’s not the first time Bhatt and the owners of the Shell station have engaged in a price war. And, to date, Bhatt’s come out on top. The prior Shell owner lost the property to foreclosure.
Brookfield resident Ted Lawrence was buying a coffee at Maple Quick Mart on Nov. 12. He said he buys coffee and Lotto tickets there every morning and often buys his beer there because of the store’s low prices.
“They’re friendly, always say hello to me, and it’s cheap,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence said he usually spends his weekends up in Wisconsin and typically fills up his Ford Explorer along the highway before coming back to Illinois to save money.
“Twenty cents is 20 cents,” Lawrence said.
However, when asked if he would wait in a line of cars for gas priced at $1.80, he said no.
“I mean hell no,” he said. “I’d burn as much as I’d save.”