Syed Husain, the co-owner of a Mobil station at the Five Corners in New Windsor, was asked Saturday how his gas sales are going these days.
He raised his hands, pointed both of his thumbs down toward the ground, and an unpleasant look crossed his face.
“We used to be a 24-hour operation,” Husain said. “Now, we open at 6 a.m. and we close at 10 p.m.”
Husain’s station used to pump 4,000 to 5,000 gallons of gas on an average day. Now it’s more like 2,500 or 3,000.
Other gas station owners and managers in the area told similar tales of hard times since the coronavirus pandemic struck.
The per-barrel price of oil recently fell into negative number territory. That drop in turn has sent prices at the pump falling 50 cents a gallon or more. Some stations in the region were charging below $2 a gallon Saturday.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen prices this low,” said Tom O’Dell, of the Town of Newburgh, who was buying gas at a Valero station on Route 17K that was charging as low as $1.85 a gallon if you had their credit card.
In the past, such a phenomenon would have brought drivers out to fill their tanks for long weekend rides.
But with schools and many stores closed, people working from home and only venturing out to buy groceries and medicine, gas sales have fallen off, too.
“Nobody has anywhere to go,” said Mike Matsler, of Blooming Grove, who was filling up his tank at Husain’s station on Saturday.
Sean O’Keefe, who owns a Mobil station on Route 17K in the Town of Newburgh, said not only are things like people working from home hurting his business, but on a typical Saturday, he normally would have customers who were on their way to visit family members in area prisons. Now those customers are gone, too.
“I’m afraid this summer will be ruined,” O’Keefe said. “Even if they open things little by little, a lot of people will still be scared to go out.”
While some buying gas Saturday said it was their first visit to the pumps in weeks, the lower prices do help people like Joe Swartz, of Maybrook, who’s still commuting to New Jersey three times a week. As he pumped gas at a Speedway station Saturday, he said he hasn’t calculated how much he’s cut his gas bill, which used to be about $300 a month, but figures he’s saving quite a bit.
“It’s even cheaper in New Jersey,” he said.
Gas station owners and managers said they are looking forward to the day when businesses now closed start to open up again.
“If nobody is driving, how can we get business?” asked Sunny Kalra, manager of a Mobil station on Route 208 in Montgomery.
But Matsler saw one benefit coming from so many people having to spend so much time at home, walking around their neighborhoods instead of driving to other places.
“People are now discovering the simple joys of living every day,” he said. “Just the other day, I met two neighbors I’ve never even seen before.”