Wednesday, February 16, 2011

2.16 Bee-otch of the Day: Blarney Castle Oil

Name: Blarney Castle Oil
Age: 78
Occupation: oil distributor
Last Seen: Bear Lake, MI
Bee-otched For: supposedly wanting to burst open an oil-soaked flower in my old hometown
Although I haven't lived there in over a decade, there's still a place in my heart for old Elk Rapids, MI. And it's not just because it's the home of Short's Brewing Company. 

Elk Rapids ain't much if you're living in the big city, but for its 1,700 souls, it means a lot. The town only has one traffic signal, one grocery store, three banks, one hardware, two druggists, several restaurants with a Subway as its only fast food joint, an old one-screen movie house, several antique and knickknack shops, a few churches and three gas stations. 

But if Blarney Castle Oil has its way, that number will go up to four. 

Not long ago, Blarney Castle - which has numerous gas stations all throughout northern Michigan and south to the Grand Rapids area - bought some land at US 31 and First Street in Elk Rapids, right across from the long-abandoned Super Tool plant. They were telling people for a while that they had no plans at the time to do anything with the property, but now, they've come to a decision to build an EZ Mart in the village. 

The proposed station would be 5,000 square feet - the biggest gas station in Elk Rapids - with a deli, plus five self-serve bays with a pump at each side, totalling 10 pumps. It would also employ 14 total people.
There are major concerns regarding the station, including the fact that there's a wetland area next to the property, and the concrete would ruin that area. Plus, there's concerns regarding the fact that it would have an impact on the town's three other gas stations. 

Elk Rapids' other stations are a Speedway, a Shell and an unbranded station that's owned and operated by the town supermarket, Village Market. Store owner Rick Young even released a statement to the news blog regarding the proposed EZ Mart: 

"I think they are good competitors. They have a station over by our Rapid City store. I don’t really think they will affect us much. They will get the 31 traffic. We depend on the locals to keep us going. They will provide a few jobs, which we need."
-Village Market owner Rick Young

Village Market Gas is the only gas station in town that's home-owned since Young lives in nearby Kewadin. The Shell's owned by Traverse City-based Schmuckal Oil while the Speedway is owned by Houston, TX-based Marathon Oil.

A public meeting was held yesterday and the village will hold off any decision until they study the area more closely. They want to look at everything from accident history of the area to police info about the area of the proposed station. Who knows? Maybe the station might force the village to add a second traffic signal.

But, there's one major reason why I'm not fully in support of the new station. You see, Blarney Castle is in cahoots with several oil companies. They own 97 gas stations. Of those 97, one is unbranded, two are affiliated with Spirit (a virtual unknown in the gas world), four are Shell, 14 are Clark, 19 are Marathon and 21 are Mobil. But get this: 31 OF BLARNEY CASTLE'S GAS STATIONS SELL BP FUEL. As a matter of fact, their flagship station in Bear Lake is a BP, and some of the stations they own are the sole stations in their respective town. And yes, they're with BP.

The question is, why would ANYBODY want to open a BP station now that the company's reputation's in the crapper thanks to their massive oil spill last year? True, like I said, BC does deal with other brands. But, Elk Rapids already has a Shell and like I said, Marathon already owns Speedway. So, that leaves BP, Mobil or Clark (most Spirit stations seem to be old and ratty). Somehow, I can't picture a 5,000 square foot convenience store with a deli affiliated with Clark, a company with a penchant of having their locales being the size of a broom closet. Yes, there's many bigger Clark stations, so never say never.

As for Mobil, I wouldn't necessarily call them the lesser of the two evils between them and BP, either. Remember, they're technically called ExxonMobil now and tragically, they're still cleaning up the Valdez disaster that happened 23 years ago. Plus, they're the most-profitable company in history thanks to rising oil prices. While everybody and their Dutch uncle filed for bankruptcy in 2009, ExxonMobil was dressed like a whorish Broadway dame from the 1930's singing "We're in the Money".

In all, I have a sick, sad feeling that this station will be built. Then again, Rick Young is right. People who truely love their communities will support the smaller guy, no matter the price. Let the folks who don't give a true damn about Elk Rapids zoom by the town while treking on US 31, surpassing everything. After all, Elk Rapids isn't a one-street town. Maybe while some guy from Toledo is filling up his oversized SUV at the BP for $3 per gallon, the local guy is paying $1.50 at Village Market Gas. It's true! One day during the holidays this past year, Village Market Gas sold gas for only $1.499 per gallon as a thank you present to the community. 

But then again, the village's people always band together when big business proposes coming to town. When Walgreen's proposed opening a store two years ago, the village fended them off. It's also a reason why there's no McDonald's in town. However, the sole hardware store in town is Flint-based Gilroy's, who bought out locally-owned Hometown Hardware over a decade ago after its owner decided to sell all of his stores to help fund the local New Hope megachurch near Acme. Elk Rapids' two other hardwares couldn't compete with the buying power of Gilroy's and shuttered.

In the end, it's up to the village if they want another gas station, especially if its brand is one whose ignorance killed 13 people and countless wildlife. Over 200 million gallons of sludge infested Gulf waters, and just the other day, I heard that more oil is washing ashore.  

Good luck, Elk Rapids. If you want more oil, it'll be blood.


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