Drivers seek gas bargains

By Sandi Krasowski, The Chronicle-Journal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter


THUNDER BAY — Patience. That’s what at least one gas station along City Road in Fort William First Nation is asking. 

Record-breaking gas prices are sending drivers to the First Nation’s gas bars to take advantage of lower-priced fuel.

“We’re going through so much gas and customers have to be a little more patient in all honesty,” said Crystal MacLaurin, co-owner with her husband Bill, of K&A Variety and Gas Bar. “I’m getting two deliveries a day because I go over (sell) 100,000 litres a day.” Normally they receive one shipment of gas per day.

With an influx of customers lining up at her pumps, MacLaurin says they have a fourth person outside trying to direct lined up motorists off the road while co-ordinating the proper lane that coincides with what side of their vehicle the refuelling door is.

Adam Nummikoski, a service attendant at K&A Variety and Gas Station, directs vehicles around the pumps to refuel them. Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

“We are doing our best to try and help (make things run smoothly),” she said. “But there are people who like to use hand gestures because they’re impatient.”

MacLaurin said she is “very fortunate” to have the best employees. She credits her staff with professionalism and kindness to their customers and says all through the pandemic, everyone stepped up and did a little more here and there.

Some employees would work on their day off to give a co-worker some time off in the seven-day a week operation.

Up the street at Bannon’s gas bar, the lineups are just as long. Co-owner Wally Bannon, who runs the family business and J&W Confectionery with his sisters, is prepared for the influx, and is also staying on top of supply and says he was “overwhelmed” to see the price hike.

“Wow, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen it jump like that,” said Bannon. “Last Friday (March 4), I saw the price jump 14 cents and I thought it was a misprint. I had to go back to the computer to double check.”

Bannon says it’s definitely been busy and he must make sure they have the supply. Customers are bringing multiple gas cans or jerry cans that they fill up along with their vehicles.

“When we start the day, we try to figure out how many people are coming over and we have a pretty good idea of which days we’re busy as heck, so we always maintain a certain level in terms of our inventory,” he said.

“So when we looked at this, and especially when the prices jumped, we had to wait for a while because the city prices catch up later than ours.”

He explained that normally, they buy gas every day while city gas bars usually buy gas every two weeks because they have the bigger underground tanks for storage.

“So we’re, we’re probably the first ones to know if there’s any kind of fluctuations in price,” he said. It all depends on our supplier. We get the price list, usually at seven at night, then we determine what we’re going to set (the price) for the next day.”

Like MacLaurin at K&A Gas Bar, Bannon was also able to retain his entire staff during the pandemic and things are running smoothly with the surge in customers.

“I am looking to increase our hours as we see the numbers and as things open up from the pandemic as well,” he said.

“Based on what I see in Thunder Bay of what’s opening, I know people are moving around more,” he said.

Bannon figures people “aren’t happy with gas prices” in the city and says that may be why he is seeing many more new customers. Again with COVID-19 restrictions lifted, more people are venturing out — and into his store after filling up with fuel.

“This gives us an opportunity to show a few of our other things like our restaurant and the many items that we offer in our store,” he said. “So it’s an opportunity for us to sort of showcase several of our other products but it certainly is a different time.”