What’s Up With That? ARCO out of gas? Corporate troubles blamed



There is an ARCO gas station at Northeast Seventh Avenue and 99th Street. The last three times I went there for gas, all the pumps had signs saying they were out of gas and only had diesel. They keep the price signs and all the pump-area lighting on, so it’s impossible to tell before pulling in. Lately, there are never any cars at the pumps. They’ve blocked the pumps with orange traffic cones. I wonder what they are selling in the store that could make enough profit to keep all that lighting on — and not have to sell gas.

— Earl Kolanda, West Hazel Dell

As you must have noticed, Earl, that station no longer is ARCO. It may become ARCO again, said a staff member who asked to remain anonymous — but for the time being, it is doing business with a different supplier. The station painted over its tall blue-and-white ARCO sign and reopened its pumps after dispensing no gasoline for a few weeks.

“We had a lot of problems with corporate,” confessed this staffer, who said that because of difficulties with electronic bank transfers, the station “is no longer in (ARCO’s) good graces.”

ARCO had demanded that the station buy its gasoline in advance. Making prepayments of many thousands of dollars is impossible while also making payroll and the mortgage, this staffer said. So: “We ended up getting gas from someone else.”

According to industry sources, ARCO keeps its prices low by eliminating frills including credit card sales, and by charging a fee for each debit sale — and by frequently insisting that franchisees buy gas in advance. A wire service story that ran in The Columbian in November 2011 detailed a lawsuit filed by a Tacoma ARCO owner claiming the company holds its franchisees to restrictive contracts that allow for very little profit. The Tacoma owner claimed that his gasoline supply was cut off because he was late paying for gas. That’s exactly what the 99th Street staffer claimed.

Contacted by email, a spokesperson for ARCO owner BP had no comment. Stay tuned.

— Scott Hewitt

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