Downtown Columbia to lose another gas station

Second gas station to close on Little Patuxent

Owner blames rent hikes from Exxon

Less than three months after an Exxon service station closed on Little Patuxent Parkway, the owner of another Exxon station on the same road has said he will close at the end of July, leaving that major Columbia artery with no gas stations, at least temporarily.

Abid Qureshi, co-owner of the Town Center Exxon at 10141 Little Patuxent Parkway, next to the Sheraton Columbia, said increased rents on the property and fuel prices have forced him and his brother, Amjid, out of business after more than 10 years in that location.

Qureshi declined to reveal how much he pays for rent or fuel, but said he has not been able to find a buyer for his franchise. “The rent is so high that nobody would want to come in here,” he said.

His rent has more than doubled over the last six years, he said. Though he declined to be specific, he said he had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“The last six years have been rough,” he said.

On May 7, the Exxon gas station at the corner of Little Patuxent Parkway and Banneker Road closed, and the station remains vacant.

In a move to increase profitability, Exxon officials decided in 2008 to sell all of the company’s 11,000 gas stations to independent distributors. Those distributors would own the gas station and the property they are on and continue to operate them as Exxon stations, according to Beth Snyder, an Exxon spokeswoman based in Virginia.

Qureshi owns the franchise where he is located, but the property belongs to Exxon, he said.

Since 2008, about 75 percent of the 11,000 gas stations have been sold to independent distributors, Snyder said. The remaining 25 percent are either franchises like Qureshi’s or owned by Exxon itself, she said.

The closures will leave Little Patuxent Parkway with two boarded-up gas stations, at a time when Howard County is considering an ambitious plan from General Growth Properties Inc. to redevelop downtown Columbia.

Richard Story, chief executive officer of Howard County Economic Development Authority, said the sites of the two Exxon gas stations should be taken up by the County Council as it considers the plan to redevelop of downtown Columbia.

“This allows county and community planners an opportunity to include these two sites into the overall downtown plan that is moving through the approval process,” he said.

Gas stations county wide are experiencing a tough time making profits, Story said.

“The margins are really thin,” he said.

Columbia Association board chairman Philip Kirsch said that while the CA has no control over the gas stations, the closings “might be something we should look into.”

Asked if he was concerned about the lack of gas stations on Little Patuxent Parkway, Kirsch said he was “concerned about the entire downtown.”

The Qureshis moved into the Columbia location in April 2009 after owning an Exxon gas station in Washington for 12 years, Qureshi said. Until recently, he said he had a good relationship with Exxon.

Qureshi said he wished Exxon had notified him in advance of the price increases.

“If I had known I could have planned for this,” he said.

Source: Flier, Mike Santa Rita (7/23/2009)

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