$3 never looked so good before

Published May 17, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO - As gasoline prices reach new highs ahead of Memorial Day weekend, one station owner is charging rates that are shocking city drivers accustomed to some of the nation's priciest pumps.

Oyster's gas station in San Francisco charges $4.33 per gallon for economy grade and $4.53 for premium - about 44 cents more than the next highest station tracked by a San Francisco gas prices Web site.

Station owner Bob Oyster says the prices are meant to raise eyebrows. He set his prices far above competitors' to protest onerous franchise rules imposed by Royal Dutch Shell PLC.

"It doesn't necessarily reflect market prices, though I'm sure they'll get there really quick, " said Oyster, who owns numerous stations and Redwood City-based Oyster Petroleum. "We just took up the price because I wanted to bring attention to what's really going on: The oil companies are making billions but putting the little guys out of business."

Oyster isn't concerned that high prices will put him out of business. After 22 years at the station, he's vacating at the end of the month. He says he can't afford to keep operating on razor-thin margins.

Shell spokeswoman Anne Peebles said Wednesday that the corporation wanted to raise Oyster's base rent from $8, 154 per month to $10, 228 over three years. Those rates were the result of an audit of commercial real estate in the bustling zone surrounding Oyster's shop, she said.

Peebles acknowledged that Oyster's campaign to taint Shell's image has caused the company some pain.

"We're certainly disappointed by Mr. Oyster's actions. It's inconvenient for consumers, and it's not in line with the rest of the Shell retailers who are trying to provide good service, " she said.