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Gas stations at in Buffalo Twp. having a price war

| Friday, July 4, 2008

You can almost hear the banjo music at the stoplight at Route 356 and Monroe Road as drivers choose between GetGo and Sheetz -- the township's own dueling gas stations.

Both companies compete with neighboring stations all over the region, but in the last few weeks, these two stations have developed a price war, hovering around 10 cents per gallon below the regional average -- which is now $4.02, according to AAA.

GetGo Assistant Manager Brandi Marple, 30, of Kittanning said the station monitors other local prices, then changes each day to stay competitive.

"It's definitely been busier" in the last few weeks since the competition became fiercer, she said.

At Sheetz, "I don't really know who started it," said corporate spokeswoman Monica Jones. "I really couldn't pinpoint exactly what day or who went first."

Legally, the stations can't sell gas for less than they paid for it, unless a nearby competitor is doing the same thing -- and that's what's happening now.

Jones could not reveal specifics, but said that at times, the price changes more than once a day.

"There's really no set time or rhyme or reason to it," she said. "It's just the nature of staying competitive."

On Wednesday night and Thursday morning, a gallon of regular, unleaded gas was $3.92 at both stations. That was the average price in Western Pennsylvania over a month ago, on Memorial Day weekend -- the last time the regional average was that low.

At GetGo, Tom Stevenson, 58, of Summit Township, filled the tank of his PT Cruiser, then opened the hatch to removetwo large, red five-gallon gas cans.

He usually hits Sheetz for a coffee before work every morning in Kittanning, but goes to GetGo when he has points from fuelperks! -- the program Giant Eagle, GetGo's parent company, uses to reward its grocery customers with cheaper gas.

"It isn't much, but the truth is, every little bit helps anymore," he said.

At Sheetz, Virginia Whalen, 42, of Buffalo Township was putting $20 worth into her GMC Sierra truck.

She uses fuelperks! when she has them, she said -- and, as the owner of a buffet restaurant in Robinson Township, she racks them up pretty quickly -- but if not, it's usually Sheetz, where she likes the service better.

"Sometimes, honestly, it depends on the side of the road I'm on," she said.

About 500 yards down the road, a Citgo station with a small convenience store is selling gas for $3.99.

They used to follow the Sheetz, but around the end of June, management stopped trying to compete, said Sandy Beckett, 50, of Buffalo Township, who works the register.

It's unclear whether Sheetz and GetGo will maintain their lower prices over this holiday weekend.

The oil market is very volatile, especially these days, Jones said, and pricing information is proprietary.

"You really can't anticipate things like that," she said. "We do our best to try to keep prices as steady as we can."

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