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Tampa Bay area BP station owners hurt by oil spill

TAMPA — Eddie Salem wanted a new look for the gas station he owns at Lumsden and Lithia-Pinecrest roads.

He signed a contract with a new gas company April 19. He started putting up the shiny green signs and changing the pumps. He thought the changes would bring him more business.

The day after Salem signed a 10-year contract with BP, oil began pouring into the Gulf of Mexico.

Since then, sales at the pump are down about 20 percent, he said. Sales in the convenience store are down 30 to 40 percent.

Salem, 28, is one of many local BP station owners feeling the pinch from the oil spill, a disaster they say has made them innocent victims, too.

"It could have been any company. I mean, they all operate the same," Salem said. "It's not my fault."

• • •

Last week, BP executives said they would try to offset some of those losses by compensating station owners. The total fund would pay out $50 million to $70 million to about 11,000 stations.

Mohammed Shalabi, who has owned the Sheldon Road BP in Tampa for a year, said his customers are understanding. But business has still been slow.

He's gone from selling 6,000 to 7,000 gallons of gas a day to about 4,500 gallons. He's not in immediate danger of going out of business, he said.

"I hope (sales) will be up again after the crisis," Shalabi said. "We need to solve this problem very fast."

Others find it easier to stay afloat. At the BP station on U.S. 19 and Ranch Road in Port Richey, owner Sally Mathew said she and her co-owner husband have heard some grumbling from customers, but otherwise, it's business as usual.

On a recent weekday afternoon, customers trickled in to buy gas, drinks and cigarettes from Mathew.

Boycotting the station makes no sense, said one customer, Charles van der Bush, a Marine veteran from Holiday.

"It's not these guys," he said, gesturing at Mathew. "This is their livelihood, so for us to boycott — it's stupidity."

Naro's, at 62nd Avenue N and 58th Street in St. Petersburg, hasn't been a BP station since 2008, owner Sal Chandrani said. However, Google still lists it as a BP station, and the sign out front is green and white, although missing the now unpopular logo.

Chandrani said business is down about 20 percent since June because of the misplaced BP stigma.

"When (customers) see the green sign, they think it's BP, and they come in here and say, 'We will not shop here,' " he said.

Back at Salem's station in Brandon, his prices are lower than at the Shell station across the street. But he said he still can't compete with them.

He doesn't know when things will return to normal.

Salem can still pay his bills and feed his two young children, but "barely," he said.

Breaking the contract with BP is expensive. So he is sticking with the brand.

On Salem's station door, a sticker with the BP logo reads:

"Part of the community.

"This BP station is owned and operated by people from this community.

"Your neighbors.

"Your friends.

"Your family.

"Thank you for your loyalty."

Times staff writer Vivian Yee contributed to this report.

Tampa Bay area BP station owners hurt by oil spill 07/05/10 [Last modified: Monday, July 5, 2010 11:55pm]
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