Since October 28th when the new Ilion Stewart's Shop celebrated their grand reopening across from the Remington Arms plant, drivers have been enjoying gas prices that have actually fallen below $3 dollars a gallon. If you're keeping track, the savings in Ilion have been as much as $1 less per gallon than anywhere else in the state.

It's absurd! It's amazing! We know how it affects consumers, as drivers are saving anywhere from $10 to $30 on a fill-up on regular unleaded. But, why is it happening and how is it really affecting the stores involved?

Over the last week, prices at Stewarts on East Clark Street in Ilion, along with rival convenience store Cliff's (also on Clark Street) went as low as $2.82 per gallon of regular unleaded. As of publishing time, price spotters reported that prices had crept just above $3 a gallon. Stewart's has remained about 2-cents lower than Cliff's.

So, what is causing the price war which is now well past the grand re-opening period from a month ago? What I'm about to share is by no means "officially" official and the information I'm about to spew comes from people claiming to be on the "inside," but unwilling to go on-the-record.

So, here goes. This is what I've learned.

Cliff's and Stewarts have been knocking heads since Stewarts attempted to open on Culver Avenue in Utica back in 2013. The store ultimately opened, but people close to Stewarts claim that the owners of Cliff's attempted to block the store from being built. Since then, Stewarts opened on Court Street in Utica and at another location on Utica's west side. Now, Stewarts is attempting to open in South Utica, and they believe Cliff's is once again attempting to prevent the building of a new store there, at the former Raspberries restaurant. A Cliff's store is located just down the street in New Hartford.

Additionally, our source claims that the owners of Cliff's also attempted to prevent the Ilion Stewarts from enlarging their footprint there. The store ultimately reopened, but with an altered, smaller design.

Our source claims the current price war between Stewarts and Cliff's is just that, a war. We're told that Stewart's will always come in with a lower price because at this point, "the gloves are off," they're a bigger operation, and they can afford to take on the challenge.

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Let's put the numbers in perspective.

Based on industry price standards, using conservative numbers, both stores have to be losing about 35 cents a gallon on every gallon of gas they're selling right now. Both stores are now tremendously busy with a constant flow of traffic at the pumps. Our source estimates on an average day, these stores probably sold about 5,000 gallons of gas prior to October. With the incredible upswing in traffic because of the low price point, both have to be currently selling 12 to 15,000 gallons of gas per day. So, let's be conservative and say they're each selling 10,000 gallons of gas a day at a 30-cent loss per gallon. That means each of these stores is losing $3,500 per day on gas sales. That's a loss of over $100,000 per month, or $1.2 million a year.

What's the End Game?

Our source says the bigger chain will outlast the smaller chain when this gas war is all said and done. For the record, there are 18 Cliff's stores located in the Central New York region. Stewarts boasts more than 350 locations in New York and Vermont, and claims nearly $2 billion dollars in annual sales. Stewarts is also a privately held company that is according to our source, beloved by its employees who own about 40% of their stock.

Our source says Stewarts will win the war, and yes, the South Utica Stewarts on Genesee Street is inevitable. It will be built. Uticans can only hope a price war like then one one in the valley erupts when that store finally opens.

In the meantime, we'll be watching the battle in Ilion closely, reaping the benefits of saving $1 per gallon on regular unleaded gasoline. Let's be honest, competition is great, but a good old fashioned price war will win over the average American, almost every time.

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