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Local BP stations see level sales

<i>Debbie Griffin photo</i> With much ado nationally about a boycott of British Petroleum, the Journal checked in with the owners of River Falls' local BP Amoco stations to see how business is going.

Co-owner of the two BP Amoco stations in River Falls, Bob Michels, said June 21, "Our sales have been real consistent."

Despite all the talk of boycotting BP in the wake of its massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the independently owned local stations are holding steady.

Michels, from Menomonie, and his partner Steve Jerlow from New Richmond, are the "Bob and Steve" who equally co-own the two local stations as well 29 others in western and central Wisconsin. Michels said independent operators own 16 of those 29 shops and just buy BP fuel from Michels' and Jerlow's company, Amwest.

Commenting about a boycott, Michels said, "The people that are going to get hurt in that situation is not the oil company -- it's the local owners."

He thinks of a man in Clear Lake who owns a station and works the counter himself every day, and other small-business owners like him.

Michels said most people understand that stores in the region are locally owned. And the people who patronize them are loyal customers who shop there because the location is convenient and they like the people working there.

"All the reasons they were coming to us before are still there," said Michels, adding that the company makes quality fuel and offers a good credit card.

Asked about how the business relationship with BP works, Michels confirms that the giant firm owns nothing at any of his and Jerlow's stores. The partners buy a certain amount of BP fuel at wholesale prices then sell it at the stations.

Because the stations use BP-brand fuel, they feature the company's name and familiar green logo. Michels explained that the stations also bear the Amoco name because BP and Amoco merged years ago, much like ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips.

He said Jerlow, after owning and selling a gas station in Minnesota, started in 1980 with a single store in New Richmond. Michels joined his partner 20 years ago.

In River Falls, they first opened the Paulson Road BP station in 1998, following later with the North Main BP station and adjacent Quick Lube. The two businesses collectively employ about 30 people.

Michels said he's been getting information about the oil spill from BP's website --

"They've been putting it up there since day one," he said.

He says the owners keep in touch with BP regularly, but haven't gotten any special communications about the oil spill that started April 20.

While sales have remained steady at Michels' and Jerlow's stations in River Falls and throughout central and western Wisconsin, Michels said people have been asking them a lot of questions. Most are curious to know if they will change to another brand of gas.

He said, "We hope we don't have to," because Amwest has been "very happy" with the BP brand.

Michels said like most everyone, the local owners hope the situation ends soon in the best way possible.

And he says, "We appreciate the loyalty of our customers."