gas station in Enterprise

Jorge Aguilar, Jr. chats with a customer at the Enterprise Texaco while filling her vehicle’s tank Wednesday, April 1. COVID-19-related travel restrictions are hurting filling station owners, both from a lack of commercial travel and people staying at home who might otherwise use fuel.

Food and lodging aren’t the only necessities people are finding it difficult to obtain during the shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Fuel for vehicles also is essential, and the businesses that sell that fuel are feeling the pinch.

“I’m only doing a quarter or a third of what I normally do, ” said Garrett Mahon, owner of Goebel’s LLC in Wallowa. “It’s been pretty slow.” He attributed the decrease largely to the ban on nonessential travel imposed by the state. “With the school down and ‘nonessential workers’ not traveling, we’re definitely taking hit,” he said.

Tim Testerman, owner of the Enterprise Texaco, and William Castilleja, co-owner with his father, Paul Castilleja, of Paul’s Chevron, in Joseph, also said their business is down, with gasoline sales off by about 50%. “Nobody’s moving,” Testerman said. “Our commercial customers are not going anywhere.”

Castilleja said he saw sales pick up a couple weekends ago and then it took a dive.

“With all the travel bans, it slowed down like in middle winter again,” he said.

The manager at the Enterprise Chevron declined to comment.

The recent lifting of Oregon’s ban on self-service gasoline has had minimal affect in Wallowa County. (The ban only applied to communities of 40,000 or more in population and there are only about 7,000 people here.) But although self service is allowed in rural communities, most stations here still have attendants at the pumps except after closing hours when self-serve swings into effect at the Enterprise Chevron and Texaco stations. Goebels allows self--service during normal operating hours. The suspension of the ban runs through April 11.

The station owners who commented had mixed opinions on the reason for the fall in business, but most agreed it was largely due to the travel ban. The other main reason was a gas war between OPEC and Russia that has been reflected in a record-low $20 per barrel and lower prices at the pump. Gas now sells for $2.89 to $2.99 a gallon in Enterprise and Joseph – still high, but lower than during most of the winter. According to gasbuddy.com, the lowest price in Oregon on Friday, April 3, was $1.99 a gallon in Canyonville along I-5 in southwest Oregon.

None of the station owners who were willing to comment had laid employees off because of the slowdown. “I’m keeping all the guys on as long as I can,” Testerman, at Texaco in Enterprise, said.

“I should have but I’m going to keep paying them,” Mahon, at Goebels, said. “I’d rather do that than fight with unemployment.” He said he’s seen vehicles with license plates from a variety of areas coming through Wallowa. Most have been from Idaho or western Oregon, but there also have been a few from Washington State.

Castilleja emphasized that his is far from the only business affected by the slowdown. “It’ll be really interesting to see what happens this summer” during tourist season, he said.

Mahon agreed. “The banks have been willing to work with me,” he said. “I could make it to summer without too much trouble. But if this continues into July, I’ll have to re-evaluate and do things different.”

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