MEQUON, Wis. - Motorists pulled in to Harvey Pollack's gas station Thursday, honked and gave him a thumbs-up — because he wasn't selling any fuel.
The owner of Towne Market Mobil in this suburb north of Milwaukee shut down his pumps for 24 hours, hoping to start a movement aimed at persuading oil companies to lower their prices.
"Somebody out there is making money at these prices, but not me," said Pollack, 57. "So I just thought: What can I do to help the consumer?"
Yellow caution tape surrounded Pollack's six idle pumps for his protest, which drew dozens of drivers. One in a green minivan rolled down her window and shouted "Thank you!"
Maria McClory, 38, drove 10 miles out of her way to buy a diet soda from Pollack's station after seeing local television coverage of the protest.
"I just wanted to support them and thank them for making a statement," said McClory, who drives about 100 miles a day for work in her sport utility vehicle.
Other drivers were more skeptical.
Jeff Bensman, 52, pulled in expecting to gas up his Honda sedan. He said he appreciated the protest but did not think it would make much difference.
"Most other places are going to be open in the area," he said.
Jack Sobczak, general sales manager for Lakeside Oil Co., a contracted Mobil distributor that supplies Pollack's station, said Bensman was probably right: "The demand will just move down the street to the next Mobil station."
Pollack and station general manager John Schwartz agreed to experiment with a pump shutdown after an Internet-based push for a one-day gas boycott went largely unheeded last week.
"Somebody's got to be the first to try this," Schwartz said.
The Mequon station sells about 3,500 gallons of gas a day, Pollack said. He estimated the station would lose only $1,500 on the protest because some losses in gas would be made up by people buying convenience store items or more gas on Friday.
Pollack, who also owns a Milwaukee title insurance agency, said he bought the gas station in 2003 as an investment but he has not turned a profit in 30 months because gas margins are razor thin and he cannot sell enough volume to compensate.
Pollack said he has virtually no control over the price he charges for gas. The company usually makes 8 to 12 cents per gallon after suppliers' prices and credit card fees. On Wednesday — the day before the protest — that added up to $3.49 for a gallon of unleaded gas.
Schwartz called that "outrageous" and said even he can't fill up his SUV at that price.
"If it keeps going like this, my kids will never be able to afford to drive," said Schwartz, who has an 18-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter.
If you don't understand all the ironies in the article- then you are not thinking. We have to change our habits people. It is the driving 100 miles per day in an SUV that got us here, and will not only eat our pocketbooks with oil prices, but is also eating our atmosphere and our health.
We need to structure our lives so that even when gas reaches $5 or $10 per gallon that we will just blink and smile that we don't need it!