It’s a rare sight: Customers smiling and laughing as they pay for gas.
With gas prices having soared this year, it’s hard to smile about filling up your tank. But at the Union 76 station in Larkfield, north of Santa Rosa, customers are happy because they’re paying only $3.989 a gallon for regular — possibly one of the lowest prices in California.
Since at least last weekend, owner Nick Ahmadi of Santa Rosa has been charging the unusual low price for those paying with cash or debit cards at his station at Old Redwood Highway and Mark West Springs Road.
His price was about 30 cents less than Monday’s average of $4.292 for Santa Rosa stations and about 34 cents less than $4.33 average for California, based on AAA’s daily survey of gas prices. AAA found that the cheapest gas in a California metro area was $4.194 in Yuba City. The most expensive was $4.417 in Santa Barbara.
To find gas cheaper than at Ahmadi’s station, you might have to drive to Nevada, where AAA said the average was $3.969.
Ahmadi, who owns about 40 gas stations in the Bay Area, said he cut his price in a gesture of “customer appreciation.”
“I’m trying to build up my volume,” he said. “I’m not making money right now.”
He said his margin is “15 to 20 cents, 25 on a good day” for each gallon sold. With credit card companies charging him about 3 percent a gallon for credit purchases, he said that’s eating away that margin.
His station, along with two others in Larkfield, had been charging around $4.20. Ahmadi said he’s always tried to charge 5 to 10 cents less than the Valero and Chevron stations just a few blocks north on Old Redwood Highway. His price cutting apparently has forced the other stations’ owners to do likewise. On Tuesday, Valero was selling regular for $4.09 for cash or debit card and Chevron was $4.09 for cash or Chevron credit card.
Ahmadi said he plans to keep his price low for as long as he can, figuring sales at the station’s convenience store and at his other gas stations will make up the difference.
Customers are hoping he’ll keep the price down.
“It’s amazing. It’s worth the trip,” said Jim of Santa Rosa who declined to give his last name after putting $70 of gas into his Toyota Highlander. “I’m sure I’ll be back.”
He said he usually buys gas at Costco, typically one of the cheapest stations in the area, but he drove to Larkfield after reading about the low price in a Road Warrior report over the weekend.
David Martinez of Healdsburg, who pumped about 12 gallons into his Toyota Camry, said his father-in-law tipped him to the low price after driving by.
“It’s nice. We have to take advantage of it when we can,” he said.
Nick Leonovicz of Windsor said he did a U-turn after seeing the low price. He spent $25 to top off the tank of his Toyota Highlander.
Station cashier David Dehmes said that since the station cut its price, he’s been seeing “a lot of smiling faces.”
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