Gas station proposal has competition fuming Deli owner to fight convenience store ELLICOTT CITY/ELKRIDGE

The owner of an Elkridge delicatessen is fighting a plan to build a convenience store at a gas station across the street, saying it will drive him out of business.

"They're going to sell milk, bread, hot dogs; they're selling everything I do," said Thom Shea, who owns the Elkridge DeliMart across the street from Montgomery Exxon, at 6310 Washington Blvd. "That will directly affect my business."


The Planning Board held a public hearing Tuesday on Exxon Corp.'s request for a special exception to replace three service bays with a convenience store. The corporation also wants to computerize its gas pumps to accept credit and bank cards, nearly double the amount of gas pumped each day, and build a 68-by-78-foot canopy that would cover the gas pumps and store.

The public hearing will continue March 31 at 9:30 a.m. in the Howard County office building.


Frank Wilkens, who has leased Montgomery Exxon for the past 10 years, said he wants to upgrade his facility and remain competitive with the Shell and Hess gas stations near him.

"The bays aren't that profitable anymore," said Mr. Wilkens, who cited competition from specialty auto repair businesses such as Jiffy Lube, Midas Muffler and Precision Tune.

He also says full-service gas stations are disappearing because more motorists are returning to their dealerships with extended service warranties.

Mr. Shea, who opened his deli five months ago, predicts he would lose 20 percent to 30 percent of his business if the gas station opens a convenience store.

"That would kill me," he said. "I don't know what I'm going to do to balance" that loss.

But Mr. Wilkens and his son, Mark, said their convenience store would not pose a major threat.

"Our main business is gasoline," said Mark Wilkens. "We're not going into the convenience store business. We don't want any hard feelings between people. We're not here to run anybody out of business, but we have to protect our rights, too."

A spokesman for Exxon Co. USA said the oil company has been modernizing its owned and leased stations since 1980. It hopes to demolish Montgomery Exxon's existing service bays and build a Tiger Mart convenience store in 1994.


"Exxon strives to maintain a balanced mix of conventional stations, self-serve locations, convenience stores and car washes in each individual market," said Les Rogers, spokesman for Exxon Co. USA.

He said most Exxon stations in the Baltimore-Washington region have service bays.

But residents say they need more auto repair services -- not another convenience store.

"It's not like we need another guy to sell us a gallon of milk," said Elkridge resident David Maier.

Neighbors say there are at least 16 restaurants and convenience stores within a mile of the gas station, including High's, Dougal's Korner and a Super Fresh store.

Elkridge Community Association President Cathy Hudson, who has not patronized Montgomery Exxon, said she misses the days of full-service gas stations.


"It has a towing service and full-service gas," Mrs. Hudson said of Montgomery Exxon. "It provides a needed service."

But the Wilkenses said they will continue to offer auto repair services at a separate location within a mile of the gas station.

"We'll still be serving the community," said Mark, who emphasized that he and his father want to improve the station.

"We've got pumps that are 25 years old," Mark said. "They're old and antique. We're just trying to upgrade our facility."

Residents also said that the 68-by-78-foot canopy is too large and that traffic would increase if the amount of gasoline pumped increases from 100,000 gallons a day to 185,000 gallons a day.

They also worried about the safety of cars making left-hand turns from the station onto Montgomery Road and Washington Boulevard.


Mr. Rogers, the Exxon spokesman, said the proposed canopy is standard size for stations with six computerized service islands. The canopy is designed to protect customers from bad weather.