July 18, 2008

Pumps Turned Off at Val’s

By Jeff Pikulsky, The Valley Independent, Monessen, Pa.

Jul. 18--It was only a matter of time before the Iacoboni family running Val's gas station in Rostraver Township decided to turn off their pumps.

"We saw it coming about two years ago," said co-owner and operator Ray Iacoboni. "There's just no money in the gas business anymore."

Iacoboni said his father, Val, decided to temporarily turn off the pumps July 5 because escalating gas prices have made selling gas much less profitable.

The station has sold gas since 1951. It is located at a busy intersection along Rostraver Road, near the Interstate 70 interchange.

Ray Iacoboni said this is the first time the business has cut off service at the pumps because of the economy.

"We've been down before but just to upgrade and that kind of stuff," he said. "For us to stop selling gas, that's how bad the gas business is. For somebody that's been in it that long, that's bad."

Gas sales accounted for about half of the independently owned business' profits roughly four years ago, Iacoboni said.

When the pumps were shut off, the sales had dropped to about 25 percent, he said.

Iacoboni said his business has been at the mercy of the market and larger chains of gas stations able to offer gas at lower prices because they can afford to purchase in bulk.

"The people need to know, it's not the stations that are making the money," he said. "We dealt off of three different terminals and, whoever had the best price, we bought it off of them."

Val's customers have been stealing gas on a routine basis, Ray Iacoboni said, estimating someone was driving away without paying at least once every three days.

Others tried to find a way out of paying.

"They'd pump the gas and say, 'Oh, I didn't bring my money' or 'I lost my wallet,'" Ray Iacoboni said. "It's a big scam anymore."

One customer offered to trade New York strip steaks for gas, he said.

"I said, 'No, we don't do that,'" he said.

The younger Iacoboni said Val's -- like other local stations -- began requiring customers to pay before they pump.

"Most of the stations are making them pay first," he said.

Iacoboni said service fees related to customers paying with credit cards added to the financial burden.

He is hoping the other elements of his business won't suffer because gas isn't being sold.

Val's also sells propane and is a beer distributor with a car wash.

"It's too early to tell," Iacoboni said. "The gas business did trade off the beer a little bit."

Val's could reopen the pumps again, but it doesn't look like that will happen any time soon.

"Right now, we're keeping our permits up," Ray Iacoboni said. "We'll see what happens."

Another long-time family-owned gas station, Bart's Citgo in Monessen, also is suffering from the gas crunch.

"The last three years, we've been losing money every day," owner-operator Bart Ferrara said. "We don't pre pay, but we were thinking about it. We're just trying to keep open and see what happens."

Ferrara has been involved in running the business since it opened in 1950.

It moved to the current Grand Boulevard location in 1961.

Ferrara and his son, Bart L., run the business as partners.

The elder Ferrara said there have been a few of customers who have stolen gas from his station, but not enough to consider it a major problem.

He said high gas prices forced him and his son to find other ways to make money.

"We're building a convenience store," he said. "It was either that or close the gas down because we lose $20, $30, $40 a day on gas. We can't raise the price. We've got to be competitive. We want to keep the gas open.

"It's tough. The volume has dropped. People are doing less driving."

Ferrara said he is fortunate that many of his long-time customers have remained loyal.

"A lot of people don't even care about the cost," he said. "They come because they know us."

Jeff Pikulsky can be reached at [email protected] or .


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