CLEARWATER — Nothing draws a crowd like $2.87-per-gallon gas.
Dodge's Stores gas station started offering that bargain on Tuesday. By lunchtime Wednesday, the station at Drew and NE Cleveland streets was mobbed.
Diana Petersen, 45, was pumping 14 gallons into her Mercury Mountaineer after her boyfriend called and told her to "get my butt down here."
Rod Cox, 33, was filling up the first of his three family cars. He was on target for a total tab of under $100.
The waiting cars blocked traffic in all directions.
At 12:35 p.m., the Clearwater police arrived.
Officers told the station the cheap gas was causing a "community hazard," said police spokeswoman Joelle Castelli.
"People were starting to get stressed and anxious,'' she said. "It was going to get out of control soon."
The officers presented the station with three options: Come up with a traffic plan, let the police create one or hire off-duty officers to direct traffic.
The station manager called corporate headquarters in Mississippi for advice and was told to raise the price to $3.25, according to police.
Nat Leathers, a corporate vice president reached Wednesday afternoon, denied that police had anything to do with the price increase. He said the station simply ran out of the lower priced gas and had to use a new shipment at a higher price.
The last time Florida's average gasoline price was $2.87 was Oct. 29, 2007, according to federal data. By law, stations are not allowed to sell gas below what they paid for it, though there are some exceptions, said Terence McElroy of the state Department of Agriculture.
How was Dodge's able to charge such a low price?
No particular reason, Leathers said. The prices fluctuate based on wholesale and freight costs, local and state taxes, and market strategies.
Recently, Dodge's had run out of fuel at some stations. It also was one of four chains whose records were subpoenaed by the Florida Attorney General after complaints of price gouging.
"I'm sure part of the reason for having a lower retail than a lot of folks ... is we are trying to be somewhat aggressive to get some of our customers back into our stores," Leathers said.
Jonathan Abel can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4157.