How have high gas prices been affecting Holiday Island?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008
While regular unleaded gas hovers near $4 a gallon as of this writing at the Holiday Island Phillips 66 station, diesel and premium are way above that. Everyone is feeling the crunch, and some are taking measures to try to reduce their fuel consumption. Kathryn Lucariello / Holiday Island News

By Kathryn Lucariello

HIN editor

As is true all over the country, rising gas prices are affecting Holiday Island in a variety of ways.

They not only affect how often people get in their cars and how far they drive, but they also affect other aspects of life here, such as recreation, business and the suburban improvement district.

Holiday Island has two gas stations: Holiday Island Phillips 66 in the Park and JB Auto Repair on Woodsdale Drive. With regular gas (cash price) hovering at $3.99 a gallon as of this writing, we spoke with station owner Richard Williams about his business, Holiday Island Phillips 66, which he and his wife, Carolyn, have owned for six years.

Williams brings an interesting perspective to the discussion: he is also the Carroll County Judge, and county roads come under his jurisdiction.

When asked how he determines what price to set on his gas, his answer was simple.

"I get a price from the distributor, and I mark it up 10 cents a gallon," he said. "They tell me it pays the rent on the building."

His business -- the convenience store and deli -- pays for his workers and other overhead. He hasn't had to lay anyone off or cut back on hours, though.

The station has 10 pumps: eight gas and two diesel. Four of its gas pumps are "cash or check," meaning customers don't pay the fees associated with using credit or debit cards, which are a 20-cent surcharge and 2 cents per gallon.

People can, and often do, drive 10 miles up the road to get gas in Missouri, which can be around 20 cents per gallon cheaper than in Arkansas.

"There's a significant fuel tax difference," Williams acknowledged. "But Missouri recently passed a state law requiring 10-percent ethanol in all the fuel. It drives the price down."

Ethanol, or "biofuel," is all the rage now. It's also responsible for driving up food prices somewhat, as farmers are growing corn for fuel.

Williams said he had an option to go with ethanol but decided against it. It may have been a smart decision, as some customers he lost to the Missouri pumps have come back.

"I've had people from Holiday Island tell me they'll stop using Missouri gas and start coming back to us," he said. "Ethanol gives less power and less fuel mileage. It was not saving them money."

A calculation of a car that gets 25-28 mpg shows that the cost in gas of driving to Golden, Mo., is the same as that spent on higher gas prices here.

Williams said he has not seen as many tourists this year as in years past, adding he feels Holiday Island is "four to six weeks behind" on summer visitors, but doesn't blame that only on high gas prices.

"Around here we've had the flooding keeping tourists away. There are fewer boats coming."

As county judge, Williams also said those driving to Missouri to buy gas are hurting their own county.

"I never quite realized before I became county judge, but the fuel tax we pay -- that's our turnback funds," he said. "When you go to Missouri, those taxes go to take care of their highways and their county roads."

Williams also pointed out that "branded" fuels, such as Conoco, Phillips and Shell, cost more than unbranded fuels, like those at WalMart (Murphy) and White Oak Station. Branded fuels have additives that give better gas mileage. The gasoline at WalMart and White Oak has ethanol in it.

"Yes, it's cheaper, but you don't get as good gas mileage," he said.

Wanda Black of JB Auto Repair said she and her co-owner husband, John, have recently come down on their gas prices because they aren't buying as much. They are a two-pump station with full service and a service station.

At least with the price rising, they don't get stuck having to lower the price on gas they paid more for, but "you don't make money selling gas," Black said. "It's pennies on the gallon."

Without the service station, they would have a hard time. She also acknowledged there aren't as many boats coming. But cars will always need to be serviced.

"We're staying busy," she said. "Good reputation spreads, so we're staying busy."

How is the vacation industry faring with gas prices so high?

Trish Russell, who owns Island Motel and Resort on Woodsdale Drive with her husband, Steve, said she has had "a few cancellations, but it seems to be more because of the water -- flooding and cold water. No one has cancelled because of gas prices."

Pam Hinson of Vacation Rentals, which manages between 40 and 50 homes, cottages and condos, said business is definitely down.

"I noticed cancellations when gas hit $4 a gallon," she said. "But we're doing a lot of promoting to get the word out that Holiday Island is here. Our market radius is probably about 100 miles."

Vacation Rentals also operates the tourist information center at the entrance to Holiday Island, which opened last month, and Hinson says that has been a positive move.

"We're seeing a lot of people going through, and we've had referrals," she said. "We have at least two to three people a day call or come through."

She said some people stopped by who were on their way to Branson from Berryville and decided to sign up for a rental from December through March.

Hinson said in one day toward the end of June she handed out three packets of information on owning property in Holiday Island.

"I am really pleased at what I'm seeing," she said. "We have a lot of people stopping by to use the wifi. I think it's been a big asset to the community. We've also had a lot of calls about the Fourth of July."

The Holiday Island Chamber of Commerce is doing a Fourth of July event with fireworks this year on the island.

Allan Krier operates the Holiday Island Marina. He too has seen a dropoff in use, but his is due in part to the fact the marina was closed until June from the flooding of Table Rock Lake that made the docks inaccessible.

Last month the marina had some temporary docks installed, so it's fully operational, he said.

"It's really not flooded," he said, "it's just high water."

He said photos showing debris in the lake at the marina only tell part of the story.

"When the lake goes up, there is debris," he said. "It comes in for a day, and then it's gone the next day as it moves downstream."

He said he thinks the traffic of marina users, rather than being spread out over several months, will increase.

"I look to see people coming all at one time," he said. "We'll probably get hit between the end of June through August. Ask me in September."

Like Hinson, he believes people will come from the local region rather than farther away. And, like Williams and Black, he said, "you never make money selling gas."

Other Holiday Island businesses have noticed an impact due to gas prices as well. Scandia Custom Homes contractor Fred Nelson said, "You're paying at least twice for gas this year than last. I've got four jobs a day and have to drive 15 to 20 miles each way," he said. "Every lumber yard I deal with sent me a notice saying they're charging a $20 surcharge per delivery. We have to pass that on to the consumer."

One business that is still holding the line on raising prices, although they are not sure how long they can do that, said Manager Paul Lux, is Sun Fest Market.

"We've tried to absorb everything we can," he said. "If it's an increase by the manufacturer, though, we can't do anything about that."

Sun Fest is trying to cut costs in other areas, such as electricity and water costs. But he's not sure how long they can hold down the bottom line.

Its warehouse distributor raises prices as needed, and non-food items such as the plastic trays meat is packaged in, has rising costs.

"Plastic is made out of petroleum," he said.

In lieu of plastic bags, Sun Fest has started offering customers the chance to purchase sturdy green fabric shopping bags for a dollar apiece.

As for Holiday Island residents, how have they changed their driving habits in response to gas prices?

For David Hirsch, the answer is easy: his 1340 cc Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

"It gets 50 miles per gallon," he said. "It's not a real fast bike, but it goes."

He said he is taking it out more frequently on errands.

"I rode today and picked up two 50-pound bags of corn at Pea Ridge, one in the saddle bag and one on back."

He said he doesn't make as many trips to Rogers as he did because of the Beaver Bridge being closed due to minor damage from the White River flooding and releases from Beaver Dam.

That trip from Holiday Island to Rogers is considerably lengthened by having to go all the way around through Eureka Springs, which is forcing some people to carpool.

That's true of those who are working for National Recreational Properties, Inc. in Bella Vista as drivers, said Wayne Kolbe.

"Some of us are carpooling -- four of us do that pretty consistently," he said. "But we go around through Roaring River State Park (in Missouri). It takes us about 20 minutes longer to go that way. Gas prices and the bridge closing have definitely had an impact."

He said he personally has made a point of driving less.

"I tried to make a goal of reducing our driving by 10 percent," he said. "I drive an S-10 pickup; it gets around 25 miles per gallon. We have a Caravan that gets 16 to 18 miles per gallon.

"Mostly we're just cutting out unnecessary trips. It's not a matter of 'needing,' to; more like, 'Well, if you're going to (raise gas prices), I'm going to drive less!' I'm conservative by nature."

Some people employed in Holiday Island who live across Table Rock Lake at Beaver have taken to parking vehicles on either side of the bridge and walking across. While the bridge is open to foot traffic, it remains closed to vehicles until the Highway Department can repair it, which has already begun.

As far as the district is concerned, gas prices have definitely had an impact, both on programs and on the overall HISID budget.

Recreation Center Director Doug Joyce said he had to double fees for the van transportation program.

He said people have not cancelled their reservations of the Barn and other facilities because of gas prices, although fewer reservations are coming in.

"There may be fewer people coming, but they're still coming," he said. "I have a feeling people are going to do what they already have scheduled. But it may change their plans for next year."

He said figures obtained from the Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce show the economic impact of each visitor to the area to be between $300 and $400. Eureka Springs has definitely felt the crunch, and there are more shops vacant in town than last year.

District Manager Kevin Crosson said campground business is way off, and the district has had to escalate its budget for fuel.

"We had a 25-percent increase in our budget since last year," he said. "Fuel usage just through April of this year increased 11.6 percent."

He said in March the price of diesel was $3.27, but is $4.39 now. The Road Department, which has an $80,000 fuel budget, spent 44 percent of it by the end of April.

"We'll probably exceed our budget," Crosson said.

The district is taking steps to reduce fuel and energy consumption he said. Crews are being asked to double up in vehicles as much as possible.

"Water and sewer crews took it upon themselves to use golf carts to do meter reading."

The district is replacing incandescent lightbulbs with compact fluorescent and putting timers on water heaters and fans in lift stations.

Crosson said he is hoping to have a conservation plan for the Board of Commissioners to review by August.

"We will present preliminary findings and seek direction from the board," he said.

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