Tom Mailey called the Stewart’s Shop “gas guys” to ask a question. While he was at it, he figured he would let them know the Sunoco station kitty corner to their Vly Road shop was advertising gas at $3.44 a gallon.
“Yup,” he said. “That would be awesome. OK.”
Not long after, the digital sign outside Stewart’s ticked down from $3.48 to $3.43.
“We’ve been staying pretty tight, about a penny underneath them,” said Mailey, Stewart’s spokesman, who showed up to the Colonie shop Thursday after word got out that vehicles had lined up all the way down Vly Road earlier that morning to fill up on cheap gas.
The gas war began shortly after Stewart’s started offering gasoline at its new Vly Road shop. The store opened in October, replacing a small shop that hadn’t offered gasoline in years. The gas pumps went in last week, prompting the Sunoco station across the Colonie-Niskayuna town line at the intersection of Vly and Route 7 to start lowering its prices.
The ensuing struggle to lure more customers than their competitors even caused prices to dip as low as $2.99 at Stewart’s early Thursday morning.
“We’re an unbranded gasoline, so we have the ability to be a little more competitive than the branded stores,” said Mailey.
Stewart’s President Gary Dake tweeted around 9:30 a.m. Thursday that there’s nothing like a price war to help a new shop get attention. He added that the convenience store chain would absorb the cost.
“It’s not a rational price,” said Mailey. “It’s not a price that makes sense businesswise, at least. But then again, it does, because it’s competitive, and we have a big investment here that we want to protect.”
Kerry Bardwell’s husband drove through town on his way home from work around 4 a.m. Thursday, when most fuel prices in the area began at $3.55. He was so astounded by the sub-$3 price that he called his wife at home in Scotia.
“I said, ‘This is a mistake,’ ” recalled Bardwell, 42.
She checked GasBuddy, an application on her smartphone that monitors the lowest gas prices by location, and confirmed the low price.
By the time she drove her car out to the station later that morning, though, the price had gone back up to $3.48.
“I usually don’t go out of my way, but for $2.99, I thought, ‘I’ll go out of my way,’ ” Bardwell said with a laugh as she filled up her car.
Mailey said neighbors will sometimes get competitive with their prices when a new shop opens or offers a big promotion. In that case, store managers keep a close eye on advertising sign and lower prices accordingly.
On Wednesday, the advertised price changed at least 20 times in 24 hours.
The shop was swamped between 9 and 10 a.m., according to the store manager. Cars were backed up onto side streets, and drivers who brought gas cans took extra long at the pumps, he said.
“It was pandemonium,” the manager said.