MARTINS FERRY - Long lines of cars, trucks and trailers waited beneath a hot noon sun Tuesday to refuel at the Starfire gas station on Aetna Street, ready to take advantage of its price of $2.99 per gallon for regular unleaded gasoline.
Across the street, the Sunoco gas station advertised its price at $3.01 per gallon.
Starfire and Sunoco have been fighting a "gas price war," competing to beat out each other's prices since Sunoco reopened June 18, reportedly following a change of ownership. The manager at Sunoco declined to comment.
Photo by Sarah Harmon
A Martins Ferry Police officer directs traffic at the Starfire gas station on Aetna Street on Tuesday.
Sunoco originally set its price at $3.39 a gallon for regular grade gas. Crystal Mitchell, manager of Starfire, said she was told to lower Starfire's price to $3.37 that day, thus starting the contest between the two stations to attract the most customers.
Mitchell said whenever Starfire lowered its price, Sunoco matched it. On average, Mitchell has set the price two cents lower every time Sunoco has matched Starfire's price per gallon.
"I've made more price changes in the past week than I've done in the last six months," Mitchell said.
At noon Tuesday, the Sunoco station was noticeably less crowded than the Starfire. Two cents less than the competitor across the street was enough to send cars spilling out from the Starfire station and into the street. By 3 p.m., Sunoco had lowered its price to $2.99 per gallon as well, resulting in a new rush of enthusiastic customers.
Just down the street, an Exxon station was selling its gas for $3.29 a gallon while the Marathon on Wheeling Island had its price at $3.49.
Traffic around the Aetna Street stations had become so congested Tuesday that Martins Ferry police reported to Broadway Street at 2 p.m. to direct traffic and keep the streets clear. Police said they would be directing traffic until "hopefully" 7 p.m. that day but declined to comment further on the competition. Employees at Starfire mentioned that police seemed "frustrated" by the "gas war."
The customers weren't complaining, though. Rows of three to five cars were lined up for each gas pump to take advantage of the lowest prices in the area.
Timothy Rowe, who is from Cleveland but owns a home locally, was one of the patrons waiting in line at Starfire. He said he watches gas prices regularly due to the volatility of the market. When he left Cleveland last week, gas prices there were at $3.40 per gallon.
"It's like when the ketchup is on sale, you buy it, baby, if you love ketchup," Rowe said. "I fill up when I can. It's like when you see it you got to get it, because it might be up 40 cents tomorrow."
Mitchell said Starfire has been receiving two full loads, about 17,000 gallons, from gas trucks every day. Usually the Starfire station receives one full load each morning and possibly a partial load in the evening.
Mitchell said she could not comment on why Starfire was engaging in the competition with Sunoco, but noted she might be instructed to lower the price by another two cents by the end of the day Tuesday.