Jeff Lenard, a spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores, which counts hundreds of BP gas station owners as members, applauded the effort. He confirmed that the situation is getting difficult, primarily in Florida where some retailers report sales off as much as 20 percent. BP does not operate many stores directly in Gulf states such as Louisiana and Alabama.
"What retailers have told me is that BP has been very supportive of the businesses affected in the Gulf – fishermen, etc. – but they haven't been as aggressive in supporting the BP-branded retailers that are also hurting," Lenard said. "BP needed to step it up to help these businesses. It looks like they got the message."
Apart from giving out some independent operators free signs that say "this store is independently owned and operated," BP has not done much to help, store owners said.
"I have not heard a word from them, except for one lousy e-mail that spelled out how to handle customers," Achi said. "My regional BP wholesaling representative used to check in here every few weeks, in person. I have not seen him in two months."
Ramesh Chhabra, who owns a BP station in Madison, Wisconsin, said business is down. He also lamented lack of help from BP. "A break of gas prices would be a big help," he said.
With the BP oil leak disaster now well into its third month, many owners of BP stations, such as Achi, are starting to wonder if they are going to be able to survive. Currently, Achi says he makes about 6 cents per every gallon of gas he sells. He is paying a wholesale price of about 6.5 cents, meaning that unless he gets some relief -- he has no room to lower prices to entice customers who otherwise inclined to make a protest. If regional wholesalers were able to give stores a price break on BP product that would help, Achi said.
Distributors, also known in the industry as "jobbers," often do more more than sell BP product, operating fleets of tankers that load up at shared, industry-run supply terminals, of which there are hundreds around the country.
Because of the way the gasoline industry works – retailers buying from wholesalers supplied by shared supply terminals loaded with gasoline supplied via pipeline by various refineries, which themselves are operated by big oil companies – it's often difficult to distinguish which gas came from which oil company. In other words, BP's Dean explained, there are non-BP stations selling product that was refined by BP, and BP stations selling product that was refined by companies other than BP. That's not a message that can be easily relayed to customers.
"One guy, just now, he pulls in, sees our sign and realizes that he's at a BP and then he pulls away," Achi says. "What can I tell him? That I have three kids I have to feed? That my mechanic also has three kids? Too late. The customer, he yelled soemthing at me and drove off."
Whether any of the aid BP can offer gas station owners will actually be of any help remains to be seen. Fishermen and tourism industy members, meanwhile, began filing claims against a superfund that the oil company set up with a push from President Obama. As for pelicans and other assorted sea creatures in the Gulf -- most are still waiting for relief.
John Wetenhall contributed to this report.