Dropping gas prices in Oak Harbor not stirring up customers

Ben Hill of the Skagit Farmers Supply Country Store said that their station is set apart because of its low price ($2.95) and customer service. Below: Arco

Even as gas prices have dipped under $3 a gallon, Ben Hill hasn’t noticed a significant increase in gas customers at the Skagit Farmers Supply Country Store in Oak Harbor.

One of the rare places where an attendant still peeks under the hood as a courtesy to check oil and other fluids, the Country Store was selling regular unleaded gas at $2.95 a gallon Monday, one of the better deals in Oak Harbor.

“People are a little more savvy using their smart phones,” said Hill, a disabled veteran who works part time at the Country Store. “I don’t see a big change. Most of my customers, people have a business account and are in here all the time.”

A drop in crude oil prices over the summer is translating to lower prices at the gas pump, including Oak Harbor, where unleaded gas dropped below $3 a gallon in recent weeks.

Four Oak Harbor stations were selling gasoline at $2.95 a gallon Monday, with one, AM/PM Mini Market on State Highway 20, offering Arco gas at the cheapest price at $2.93.

On Tuesday, Phil Collier, owner of Hilltop Auto Service on Midway Boulevard, dropped his unleaded gas price to $2.93, matching the best deal in town.

Collier said it’s been about three years since gas prices have dropped this low in Oak Harbor, yet doesn’t see it falling too much more.

The price reduction is a trickle-down effect from the drop in oil prices.

“I’ve been doing this 40 years now,” Collier said. “Why oil is down now is the China and India economies are sluggish. They’re not using as much oil right now and Saudi Arabia is putting out 340,000 barrels a day more than they should be producing. There’s a glut in the market.”

The national average for unleaded gasoline was $2.98 a gallon Monday, the lowest price paid since Dec. 14, 2010, according to AAA. When the average fell to $2.99 a gallon Saturday, it ended a streak of 1,409 consecutive days of the national average above $3 a gallon, AAA reported.

In Oak Harbor, gas started dropping under the $3 mark about two weeks ago.

The Country Store, Safeway and the Navy Exchange on Whidbey Island Naval Air Station were offering regular unleaded gas at $2.95 Tuesday ­­— two cents more than Arco and Hilltop, which sells Shell gas.

“When I started selling fuel, it was 50-something cents a gallon,” Collier said. “Now, our federal and state tax is 62 cents a gallon. Isn’t that ridiculous? And we’ve still got crappy roads.”

Those venturing off Whidbey Island are able to find gas cheaper. At the Chevron station near the Swinomish Casino and Lounge in Anacortes, unleaded gas was being sold for $2.75 a gallon Tuesday.

Three outlets in Burlington dipped to $2.69 a gallon Tuesday.

The lowest price in the state Tuesday was found at Point Roberts in Whatcom County at $2.57 a gallon.

Collier said it’s been tough to compete with state tax breaks received by Native American tribes.

He said his is among the last of a rare breed of full-service stations in Washington, offering gas, groceries and lube and oil services.

Hill said he likes to think the Country Store also offers other attractive features that keep customers loyal such as pumping their gas for no additional cost.

“They like coming in here and seeing my pretty face to do the work for them,” he said jokingly.