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Not all war is hell

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Turns out not all war is hell.

Canton gas stations recently started a war that is knocking down prices at pumps faster than a Humvee can burn through a gallon of super unleaded. I saw prices drop twice in one day at a Main Street station last week. Twice in one day.

Talk about shock and awe.

Here’s how it works: One station lowers its price. The station down the street then lowers its price. So the first station lowers its price some more. The competitor then drops the price of its gas again. And so on and so on.

So far, we don’t know when the great war will end. The last skirmish left us with gas at $3.77 a gallon at the cheapest station - $3.82 or so at competing places down the road.

If you are not excited about this, you have never lived or worked in Canton.

All the gasoline for sale in Canton for years had been way overpriced. Make that WAY overpriced. As little as two weeks ago, it was at $4.11 a gallon. You could save money by making the 40-mile round trip to Ogdensburg for a fill-up instead of getting your gas here. I know people who did just that.

My Love Nugget before the war started would regularly put $1 worth of gas in her truck so she could get to her job in Ogdensburg and then fill the tank.

“I’m not giving these gougers my business,” she would say to me. “Why in the world is gas so much more expensive in Canton?”

That is a question I have been asking since moving to the north country nearly 20 years ago. I have never gotten a good answer. Some folks suggested the reason was higher transportation costs of getting gasoline all the way to our cultured burg in the middle of nowhere.

That sort of made sense, except it didn’t explain why a station in Hopkinton – another fine burg 25 miles farther into the middle of nowhere than the St. Lawrence County seat – could routinely sell its gas for a dime less than Cantonites were paying. It also didn’t explain why Ogdensburg residents paid 15 cents less on average for every gallon they put in their tanks back before the war.

Come to find out the station owners weren’t gouging Canton customers because the cost of gasoline delivery was so high. They were gouging customers because they could. It was a brilliant profit strategy that worked for years.

The war changed all that.

A store opened and the owner brought with him a new strategy: Undercut the competition. A nickel here, a nickel there ... pretty soon we were looking at gas prices that were not 30 or 40 cents more than the national average. Or 15 cents more than a station 19 miles down the road for that matter.

It is a beautiful thing.

AAA posted the national average cost per gallon at just under $3.68 on the day the gas wars started here. It was $3.99 at one Canton station before the price was dropped to $3.89, then $3.85, then $3.82. The station that started the war on its first day priced gas at $3.89, then dropped it to $3.86, then $3.79, then settling – at least right now – to the $3.77 mark mentioned earlier.

That’s only 14 cents higher that the national average reported by AAA on the day I am writing this. It might be even lower by the time you end up reading what I’ve written. That’s what I am hoping for at least.

This is the first time in my memory that Canton has had the lowest gas prices in St. Lawrence County. I say let the battle rage on.

This war isn’t hell. It’s heavenly.

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