Gas Station’s Publicity Stunt: 99 Cents a Gallon

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Ike Omran figured word would spread quickly and it did, first via social media and then on Thursday morning’s local TV newscasts.

Omran owns BP Fuel Fast Break at the intersection of Midlothian Boulevard and Youngstown-Poland Road.

Early this morning his station was selling gasoline for $2.09 a gallon. He lowered it $1.99, then to $1.69 and finally 99 cents.

By 7 a.m., cars and trucks clogged the entrances and began backing up traffic along state Route 170 to the village of Poland and along Midlothian to the entrance of Interstate 680.

Omran gleefully admits it was a publicity stunt. He recently completed a $500,000 rebuild of the gasoline service station and waited for the price of gasoline to fall to $38 a barrel — low enough to fuel today’s 99-cent frenzy.

“I’ve worked with people all my life, serving customers every day and I know how important the media is for the promotion,” he says.

And so, Omran decided to designate today as his station’s “official grand reopening.”

Omran also owns the Fast Fuel one block away at 4050 Youngstown-Poland Road where he set today’s price at $1.96 a gallon.

Across the street from the BP are Valero pumps operated by Sami Quick Stop, 2115 Midlothian Blvd., where the price was set this morning at $1.96 per gallon.

Keith Roland, manager of Sami Quick Stop, said it was not worth it for his company, SFR Group Inc., to match BP’s price.

“It’s a publicity stunt,” he shrugged.

As traffic backed further and further up, some motorists decided Valero’s $1.96 a gallon was low enough, pulled their cars out of the long lines and supplied Sami Quick Stop with a steady stream of customer traffic as well.

“We will not run out of gas,” Omran declared. “Another BP tanker is on its way.”

Omran said he expected to sell as many as 20,000 gallons of gasoline today. Doing the math, that’s $19,800 in gasoline receipts – a loss leader that also brought more customers into his food mart. How much did he expect inside sales to rise? Omran would not say, and it was clear that most folks dared not get out of their cars.

“I want to keep the price at 99 cents all day long but if we cannot control traffic, that might be a problem,” said Omran, who wondered at 8:30 a.m. why the police had not arrived to direct traffic.

By 10 a.m., a Youngstown cruiser showed up and a single officer stood on the city side of Youngstown-Poland Road. By 11 a.m. four policemen were on the scene. And by 2 p.m., the BP service station had raised its price to $1.96, reportedly at the request of police.

Still, at 5 p.m. cars were lined up albeit in the parking lot but not clogging the Midlothian Boulevard.

Earlier, when the price was 99 cents and  traffic started jamming, Omran hired a few young men “on the spot” to direct cars to the pumps in an orderly fashion. Sure enough, some cars jumped the lines; tempers flared and expletives were shouted at those who double-pumped, like Al Gomez.

About 7 this morning, Gomez filled up his truck, then returned with another truck and more than 15 five-gallon gasoline cans.

“Is it fair to the other cars in line that you brought all these gas cans,” a reporter asked.

“No,” Gomez said, “but I’m a working man and I can’t pass up 99 cents a gallon.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.