Big fears, short lines

October 1, 2008
By: Vicki Bell

Last night, continuing our long-standing tradition of "date night," my husband and I went to our favorite local restaurant, Alpha Soda. A fixture in our community, Alpha Soda—which was established in 1920 and is said to be the oldest standing business in its city—draws crowds. Not so last night. The normally packed parking lot was almost empty, as was the restaurant. The wait at the hostess station was a nanosecond, as was the wait for service. Why?

National economic fears and the gas crisis in the southeast are having a huge impact on this area's economy. At the restaurant, a server who had much time to kill talked with us about business. She said it had been very slow all week, because people don't have the gas for discretionary driving. She described the scene at the nearby Quick Trip station over the weekend. "People were camping out at the station, waiting for the fuel tanker to arrive." She passed the QT going to the mall, and when she drove by it again two hours later, she saw the same gentleman parked in his truck—reading the paper—that she had seen two hours earlier. When she left work the other day, she asked her co-workers to keep an eye on the station and call her if it received a gas shipment and opened. She never received a call.

There have been media reports of people running out of gas while waiting in line at service stations, and anyone who's driven in the metro Atlanta area has seen lines backed up so far from stations that they block traffic.

While we used to look at posted prices at stations and bemoan rising costs, we now look to see if prices are posted at all. If they aren't, the station has no gas.

After eating, we drove to Sam's Club. Before parking, we scoped out the store's gas station. No gas.

If any retailers in the area are continuing to do a decent business in this down economy, it's the big-box stores. It isn't uncommon for us to have to park a considerable distance from the entrance at Sam's Club. We joke that doing so is part of our exercise program. We burned few if any calories last night.

The store was almost empty, and cashiers were milling around talking to each other. Unlike our last visit to the store, when we chose the shortest line and still were three carts back, we had no wait in line, nor did we have to wait in line for the guy at the door who makes sure we paid for all the items in our cart. He took his time counting items and comparing them to our receipt.

It was eerie and scary. I'm not exaggerating when I say that things appear bleak here in the land of little gas. I can't help wondering if and hoping that we're close to the bottom with the whole economic debacle and the regional gas shortage, and there's nowhere to go but up.

I'm an optimist by nature.

A friend and I were talking the other day about the financial crisis. She said she hasn't looked at her investment statements in about three months. Neither have I. I feel like an ostrich, but an optimistic ostrich, banking on the theory that the markets and economy will bounce back, gas will once again flow plentiful in the southeast, and long lines will return to the places where they should be and disappear from those where they shouldn"t. They will—won't they?

Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209