Jesse Lyman: Man in the Middle
Jesse Lyman, it can be said, tells it like it is, according to the way he sees it. He is known for his outspokenness. He can rise at a Town Meeting and awaken the voters with hard biting wit and straight-from-the-hip way of viewing things. He is also known for his years in the Valley as operator of the Shell gasoline station on Main Street in North Conway.
He is a smart businessman, shrewd and knowledgeable of both the main drags and backroads that must be traveled to survive in a competitive business climate. And in this year of the energy situation, Jesse Lyman (photo above from www.lymanoil.com) is "scrounging for allocations," as he calls it. And he is surviving.
"You should see my phone bill" is the reply Jesse gives to a question about how he is faring during the current gasoline allocation confusion. Those phone calls are made to contacts he has made in 24 years of doing business in the gas industry. The Lyman name has been associated with supplying gasoline in the Mt. Washington Valley for 46 years, and Jesse says that he is loyal and appreciative to the support he and his family have received from the town of North Conway in that long time. And he says he is appreciative of those business contacts which have been to his advantage. One of the more recent of his contacts has been Fred Siegel, the Allocations Officer for the Governor's Energy Office.
"I was going to have to close the week of July 22nd-27th, opening only from 6a.m.-8a.m., so that I could come through with my commitment to the townspeople to have enough gas for Volvo week," Jesse said. A cardboard sign had been posted in the window of the gas station late last week stating that due to factors brought on by the government, by the news media, and by the oil companies, the station would have to follow the 6 a.m.-8 a.m. hours. But on Sunday, the gas situation for Jesse changed when the most recent contact, Fred Siegel, came through with an allocation of gas. Lyman's Shell will now be open its regular hours, seven days a week. The "scrounging for allocations" method had worked, for this month anyway.
"I called Fred last month to see what he could do for me and he didn't have any gas, which I told him was okay, as long as he remembered me this month, and he remembered," Jesse said while sitting in the station's office. On Main Street, a steady flow of traffic passed on through town, and the skies grew darker as a late afternoon thundershower approached. "People say that we gas dealers are receiving all the flack, but I pity Fred and the other people down at the Energy Office in Concord. Fred's a good man, and you know that he's doing the best he can," Jesse said in support of the state allocations officer.
The gas that Siegel allocates to gas dealers in need come from the five percent of each oil company's total allocation for the state. Normally, the state reserve is held for emergency situations, such as for fire, police, and ambulance vehicles. The Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce has been working with the Energy Office, stressing the importance of receiving enough gasoline for the tournament, which is important to the economy of the Valley. Those efforts paid off last week when Siegel assured Mike Perlis, the executive director of the Chamber, that he would do his best to see that the Mt. Washington Valley received enough gasoline for both the Volvo and the area's tourism needs. Lyman's Shell received, along with another station, the extra allocation this week. Whether more will become available remains uncertain though Jesse says he is now "all set for the month."
Perlis has repeatedly stated that the Chamber has greatly appreciated the cooperation given by the Valley's gas retailers during the past months, Lyman admits that the past months have been a hassle. "This town was built on good will, and the people here have always supported my family's business. These past months have required a lot of extra work on our part, trying to watch out for allocations and making everyone happy, but I'm going to stay in the gas business, no matter what, as long as I stay healthy, Jesse said pausing to make sure that his appreciation towards the town and what he was saying was being understood the way he meant it.
Jesse dealt gasoline during the last energy scare in 1973. He says he has learned to be much more tactful when dealing with government and oil persons since then, saying that he has found that "Honey goes down much easier than vinegar." The current situation will ease up as the prices increase he predicts. "It's a period of time we're going through, not the end of the world," he commented.
Jesse objects when the word "tricks" is applied to the obtaining of gas allocations for his station. "We're not talking about tricks, we're talking about being knowledgeable about the business you're in and maintaining contacts you've made over the years," Jesse said. He works hard and he has gas.
Jesse said that the current energy situation has affected his business in ways other than fighting for allocations. It has forced him to eliminate late night service, and his hours cannot be counted on for certain from week to week. He explained that he has been able to keep his allocations based on last year's business for the same months, and that the decrease in the number of tourists coming to the Valley so far has helped to keep the supplies slightly ahead of demand. But two weeks ago, the easing up of the gas shortage in southern New England resulted in more cars on the road, and evidence of their movement could be seen at Jesse's second station in Conway.
Ten Years ago, a new tank shipment of 8,500 gallons of gas cost Jesse and other dealers $900. The current price for a shipment of the same amount now costs $7,016.75. Since the federal government first imposed regulations on the gasoline industry in 1972, the profit margin for a gallon of gas has been maintained at 10.5 to 12.5 cents a gallon while other expenses have skyrocketed. On Monday, July 16, the Department of Energy announced a new profit margin of 15.4 cents, scheduled to go into effect August 1st. Jesse says that is about time.
"We're entitled to a profit; we've got expenses too," Jesse said. He continued that his six employees do not make what employees used to get 10 years ago either. Before the regulations, according to Jesse, the gas companies kept gas station owners poor, allowing just a three cent profit per gallon. The regulations have led to a decline in the services a number of stations provide, according to Jesse, as the profit for the owners increases, but overall he see the new profit regulation as favorable. He nonetheless is strongly opposed to government intervention in what he sees as a market situation.
"There's so many ifs about the whole energy situation; questions about the supplies, gavernemtn policies, the oil companies," Jesse said. "I heard Carter the other night, and he said a lot of strong words. I'm gonna sit back and see what happens. I don't have to stay in the gas business, but you can't teach an old dog new tricks. I've got a business and good people who have to eat, too, and I've got a commitment to the people who've supported my commitment in the past, and I plan to keep it."