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Fort Benedict Store owner gives view on gas prices

Fort Benedict Store keeps a ladder ready to modify the ever-changing gas prices. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 2
Vince Picha owns and operates the Fort Benedict Store in Benedict, which is south of Laporte in Hubbard County. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 2

Vince Picha keeps his stepladder underneath his gas prices sign perpetually.

The way prices have jumped up and down this winter he reasons why put it away? They've risen almost daily since Christmas.

The small town vendor of the Fort Benedict Store said he wished he knew French so he could politely repeat what he's hearing from his customers. Otherwise it's not suitable for a family newspaper.

"It's terrible," he said. "What's really sad is that people are so used to getting gouged, a lot of them don't complain any more."

He's not sure he's buying the cockamamie reasons that he must pass on to his customers.

But the burg of Benedict is uniquely situated between resort towns in eastern Hubbard and western Cass counties, so Picha said this year he's able to offset his losses.

"I think everybody is" (mad), he said, "Nobody's happy and I haven't heard too many excuses why except they're changing over to summer blend and they were doing line maintenance at some refineries."

Snowmobilers and Eelpout Festival guests have boosted his weekend revenues, he admitted.

"'Here we go again' and 'why is it going up so much in the winter' and I listen to Fox News and they usually have some sort of explanation," Picha said, summing up customer comments.

But Fox News has disappointed him, Picha said. They can't explain skyrocketing gas prices better than anyone else.

"I'm not buying it," he said. "This happened last year. Of course I pay attention because I'm buying it in quantity. Last year it started going up in the winter and I had a bad winter because of no snow. It really put the bite on me last year."

And, because gas is such a critical commodity, Picha said he's seen his friends and neighbors struggle when gas prices reach $4 a gallon.

He mentioned a woman who had to quit her job at a Pamida store because she couldn't afford the daily commute on her wages. That was in 2008 when gas went to $3.99 a gallon. Then there is his neighbor and sons, who drive trucks for a living. Now that gas heads to that $4 a gallon mark again, an economy that was sputtering back to life is stalled once again, what Picha calls the "trickle down theory."

He's seen neighbors' homes foreclosed on because they can pay the basics, food and gas, with nothing left for the house payment. And he's seen credit card debt rise at his very own business.

"They just swipe a card, put it on the plastic," he said.

"They say OPEC," the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Counties, is to blame, Picha said.

"I think it's the administration's fault for not monitoring (prices.) It's an oil-driven society, an oil-driven economy. Oil prices go up, the economy gets sluggish, the economy doesn't work. And here we go again."

The store sees a transfer truck once a week and buys 2,000 to 4,000 gallons, a combination of 91 octane, 87 octane and diesel, he said.

"Oil prices dictate everything," he said. "Who's moving, the transfer trucks..."

And he wonders why locally no one is seeing gas from the Bakken Formation in western North Dakota.

There is no refinery there. Yet. One is in the planning stages.

Picha turns his TV on to crude oil prices so he can monitor the market. But he's come to the conclusion that crude oil prices don't necessarily reflect prices at the pump.

"They like to keep people confused," he said. "And there's nothing the general public can do about it because they need it."

When asked when he knows it's time to climb the ladder, Picha clams up.

"It's confidential."

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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