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Traffic crosses the Highway 12 bridge Thursday near the BP gas station on Litchfield Avenue southwest in Willmar. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

Local business proprietors say no effects felt so far from the boycotts of BP

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news Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- As the BP oil rig continues to spew tens of thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico each day, local BP station owners say the spill hasn't been affecting their businesses.

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"There's been talk about the spill around here, obviously, but nobody has said anything to me about it," said Mike Skindelien, co-owner of Skindeliens BP Amoco Mini-Mart in New London. "Most people realize I'm privately owned and not associated with BP except for the name."

Of the roughly 11,700 BP gas stations across the country, the majority are independently operated by regional owners or individual franchise owners. Most have contracts with BP and don't have the option to drop its logo.

Mark Suedbeck, owner of Willmar Auto Plaza, 1406 U.S. Highway 12 East, said he couldn't drop the BP name even if he wanted to.

"We have contracts and agreements," Suedbeck said. "We purchase fuel from BP, and in return we fly their flag. We're no different than a car dealership."

Skindelien, on the other hand, said he doesn't have a contract with BP, but believes switching companies would only inconvenience customers who already have BP credit cards.

"We could switch if we wanted to," Skindelien said. "They own nothing here. But if we switched to Shell or Sinclair, for example, (the BP card) would be no good here."

He said that for as much talk as there's been among local residents about the oil spill, it hasn't affected his day-to-day business in any way.

Likewise, Suedbeck said his station has not seen "a drop in sales or gallons," despite the harsh criticism top BP officials are currently facing from the American public.

"We're a small town, so everyone knows I'm the owner," he said. "By boycotting small businesses, people would just be hurting me and my 16 employees who live and work here. We're working here for a living."

Since the BP-leased oil rig exploded on April 20, between 66 million and 120 million gallons of oil have leaked into the Gulf of Mexico, according to government daily spill rate records.

On Thursday, BP's Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward appeared before a House investigations subcommittee, telling lawmakers that he is "deeply sorry" for the spill.

"I understand the seriousness of the situation, the frustrations and fears that continue to be voiced," Hayward said.

He also told the committee that BP has spent nearly $1.5 billion in efforts to stop the oil leak since it started eight weeks ago, according to reports from the Washington Post.

This testimony came a day after BP officials agreed to pay $20 billion into an escrow account to compensate victims of the oil spill, including those working and living along the Gulf Coast.

Nationally, boycotts on BP filling stations have been steadily gaining in popularity. The Washington, D.C., group Public Citizen, founded by former presidential candidate Ralph Nader, and Democracy for America, a political action group based in Vermont, have both launched serious efforts to encourage people across the country to stop buying gas at BP stations.

As of Thursday, more than 645,000 people were fans of the Facebook page "Boycott BP." The group organized a worldwide "BP Protest" day on June 12. More than 50 U.S. cities participated, according to the website.

Rather than protesting small business owners, Suedbeck said the most effective way to make a difference is by contacting lawmakers.

"That is the best way to do anything involving a corporation," he said. "That one voice can carry many thousands."

Suedbeck also summed up the overwhelming opinion of Americans on Day 60 of the greatest oil spill in U.S. history:

"I certainly hope they can get (the leak) contained quickly and then move on with the cleanup and try to learn from this," he said.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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