By ed runyan
The experts didn't see last month’s gas-price spike coming, let alone customers at Conroy's Xpress on Logan Way in Liberty.
It left some customers a bit grumpy, said Nariman Judeh, the store”s manager.
“They yell at me every day. They can’t believe that prices can go up so much overnight,” she said. “They ask if it’s a conspiracy.”
Judeh said customers liked the $2.98 her store was charging last weekend, and lots of people filled up their tanks when it became apparent that her store had the lowest price.
“Some people were bringing their car, their wife’s car, their daughter’ s car and filling up all three,” she said.
But a few days later, when the price hit $3.19 a gallon, behaviors changed.
“A lot of people bought just a gallon or two, left, looking for a lower price, then came back” when they realized all the stations had raised their prices, she said.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that U.S. forecasters thought at the start of December that U.S. demand for gasoline would remain low all month. Dramatic price increases were not expected.
But consumption from mid-November to Dec. 17 averaged nearly 19.7 million barrels a day, the highest level since February 2009, when the price dropped to $40 per barrel, roughly a quarter of the price of Summer 2008 ($150 per barrel).
If gasoline use stays at current levels, its price will match amounts not seen since August 2008, at the start of the recession, AAA of Northeast Ohio says.
The Wall Street Journal and AAA agree that high demand, perhaps fueled by improvements in the national economy, are to blame for the price increase.
But Robert Mikula of Liberty and others interviewed at two area gasoline stations say they don't buy that explanation, even if they have to buy high-priced gasoline.
“Shady,” is how Robert Mikula of Liberty described the nature of gas-price increases.
“They know we need it, and that’s it,” he said of gas companies. “They know that we”ll pay $5 a gallon.”
“It’s ridiculous, but what are you going to do? You have to go to work,” said Tracy Barlett of Liberty. “You just have to hope it stops rising eventually. Everything goes up but our paychecks for those of us who are working. I can”t imagine for those who are not.”
Jim Banks of Liberty said the timing of this year”s gas-price increase was especially bad — during Christmas, when people are having trouble coming up with money for gifts.
Waseem Akhtar of Austintown, putting gas in his car at Ultimate Food Mart on Belmont Avenue in Youngstown, where the price was $3.13 on Wednesday, said he doesn't understand why gas demand is linked with higher prices.
“In my opinion, as a businessman, if you have less price, you have more customers,” he said. Akhtar runs a tax-return preparation business.
Akhtar said he thinks the government should subsidize prices during the holidays to keep them lower.
Art Beffert of Youngstown”s North Side said he just returned from a business trip that took him to Columbus last week, where the gas price was in the $2.60s. At the time, Youngstown's price was around $2.85. On Wednesday, he paid $3.13.
Beffert said his gasoline consumption is always about the same, no matter the price.
“Why are the gas companies gouging us? It kind of defeats the purpose of going to work,” he said.