Two little letters have never carried such a stigma in the eyes of the American public.
After the April 20 explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, public outrage has led to protests at and boycotts of gas stations across the country, even as BP officials at the White House Wednesday tentatively agreed to set aside $20 billion to pay claims from those harmed by the spill.
What effect the outrage has had on local gas station owners is hard to measure. Some don’t want to talk about it. Some say it’s business as usual.
Still others, such as Hamid Al Hambani, co-owner of the Tennessee State University BP on John Merritt Boulevard, said it’s the little gas stations taking it on the chin from angry consumers.
“Actually, we face the customers, you know. Somebody’s going to come and talk to me bad — not talk to BP — and BP just collects the money from us,” Hambani said.
“If you’re not patient in this kind of business … [it] could be possible there’s a lot of people who don’t like it, and they’re going to say something, and you have to take it or you’ve got to fight with them, you know.”
Hambani said the “big giant company” with the money, the equipment and the people should have had a solution ready from the start.
“I’m sure BP has God knows how many engineers and people to take care of it,” he said. “We hurt because of them.”
Data provided by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture Weights and Measures Section shows there were about 10 BP stations in Davidson County and another 20 or so selling BP gasoline as of January 2010.
A search on the BP website shows there are 53 stations selling its product within a 10 mile radius of Nashville. The company did not respond to a request for comment prior to deadline.
Most of those stations operate under another company name, such as Mapco or Daily’s.
Eric Osborne, the assistant manager of the Daily’s BP at 301 White Bridge Road, said even though some customers ask where the station’s proceeds go, he hasn’t seen a drop in business from BP’s big problem.
“Even though we’re a BP, we’re still owned by Daily’s, so people still come here because all of our proceeds go to Daily’s and not BP. They’re just upset with BP, not Daily’s.
“A lot of people just feel it’s down in Louisiana, and it’s not our problem right now,” Osborne said.
A matter of convenience
The underwater gusher of black crude in the Gulf of Mexico — now spewing an estimated 60,000 gallons of oil each day, with BP capturing only about 15,000 gallons of that — is a problem much bigger than a single gas station for customer Carl Murphy.
“They can’t stop it in two months, that means it can’t be stopped,” Murphy said.
For Murphy, filling up his minivan at a BP on Dickerson Pike, it’s just about getting gas when you need it, not about second-guessing where the gas comes from or what it represents.
“I ain’t got no problem with it,” he said.
Convenience is big.
Shopping at Hambani’s store, Angela McCrary isn’t happy with BP as a corporation, but she sees no fault with the local BP station where she shops.
“I think that it is horrible what has happened, and I think that BP should definitely be held liable for any of the consequences, especially those affecting people’s jobs — the fishermen and that kind of thing,” McCrary said.
“As far as locally, I think that the convenience market is not going to see too much of an impact in this particular area, because it’s what it says — convenience. It’s there. Do you want to go 10 blocks away because it’s a BP?”
Besides, “It’s going to hurt [the stations’] business if you boycott them, and it’s not really their fault.”
But while kids out of school for summer still come in groups to buy sodas and snacks, men still come in to pick up lottery tickets, customers still want their cigarettes, and a few dollars at the pump still sells, Al Hambani said not everyone is as easygoing as McCrary. After all, his business is down.
Across town at the BP at Nolensville Pike and Harrison Street, most of owner Al Awel’s customers are regulars and continue to shop there as such.
“It’s just like a family. We’ve had no problem so far.”
As he spoke, a woman from the “family” walked in.
“Hi, friend. How are you?” he asked.
“I’m fine. How ’bout you?”
She was looking for a six-pack of Busch. The two searched the cooler with no luck.
“I’ll take the Natural then, sweetie. I’m not fussy.”
And business goes on.