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Gas prices take a shallow dip over weekend

By Justin Boron

A moderate decrease in gas prices that came late last week and over the weekend is a little bit of relief to gas pumpers like Jonesboro resident Tim McClendon, who filled up his tank at a local gas station Monday with average prices at just over $2, according to www.atlantagasprices.com

But the 33-year-old said he is still forking out too much to drive his Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.

"(The price) is just fluctuating," McClendon said. "It's not enough to make a difference."

A decline in crude oil prices early in March precipitated the recent dip in gas prices, said Ric Cobb, the director of the Georgia Petroleum Council.

Crude oil appears to have peaked and turned downward, he said.

"Will (they) continue to fall, I don't know," Cobb said.

Summer prices, which annually swell due to a demand increase and a special type of gas sold during the season around Atlanta to comply with federal environmental restrictions, will likely keep the gas prices up, Cobb said.

But the high prices typically don't affect summer vacations because the difference can be as little as $50 to $70, local tourism officials say.

John Waden, 39, of Jonesboro said the prices hadn't changed his plans to visit South Carolina and Florida over the next two months.

"(Gas prices) are kind of like alcohol and cigarettes whatever it goes up to, people will buy," he said.

Vacationers leaving the state can expect to significantly higher prices in neighboring states where the gas taxes are much heavier than Georgia's 7.5 cents per gallon.

In South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, and Tennessee, the taxes are all above 15 cents per gallon, according to www.gasbuddy.com.

While commuters and travelers have seen pumps take a bite out of their checking accounts, the recently high gas prices also have forced stations to change the way they do business in the long run.

Gasoline retailers' profit margins are at a 20-year low.

Even more surprising, their troubles are being exacerbated by high pump prices, prompting motorists to avoid premium-grade gasoline and pay more often with credit cards. Both trends reduce earnings that already were just a few pennies per gallon.

Surveys put the national average mark up for gas prices between 6 and 7 cents per gallon, said Tom Smith, a state director for the Georgia Association of Petroleum Retailers, Inc.

Coupled with rising competition from Wal-Mart, Costco and other discounters, these purchasing trends have reinforced the importance of an industrywide shift toward bigger facilities that sell more snacks, sodas and services that deliver higher profits.

But unlike the high-end retailers that combine low prices with a wide selection of food and snacks, Smith said most of Georgia's gas station owners don't have the space and cash to upgrade their facilities.

"Many of the smaller retailers cannot afford the glamour of the RaceTrac," he said. "And really, they're suffering."

But there are some ways to work around the financial limitations of a store's layout, Smith said.

Little things like having enough space in front of the register to avoid bottlenecks caused by early morning rushes or eager lotto players can work to present a more aesthetically appealing store, he said.

"It does not have to be an expensive layout to make it attractive," Smith said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.