For Local Gas Station, Panic at the Pump

North Carolinians are not known for keeping their cool.

Panic-buying has been elevated to an art form when it comes to anything resembling a weather emergency: milk and bread sandwiches, anyone? So it was not so surprising that local residents — like millions up and down the East Coast — made a run on gas stations last month after the temporary shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline interstate pipeline.

For Randy Merritt, owner of the Seven Lakes Friendly Mart/Shell, he joined dozens of other retailers in trying to keep his pumps fueled.

“The public’s reaction and what they do here, now, is going to determine how quickly we can get back to normal,” Merritt said in an interview shortly after the pipeline began flowing again on May 14. “This is a shortage being created by an unreasonable demand.

“The main thing people need to do is not act like there is an emergency,” he added. “You need to get what you need to get by for a few days and not act like there’s not going to be any more gas. Everyone doesn’t need to try to keep their tank full — right now there is not enough supply to do that.”

Located on N.C. 211 in the Seven Lakes business district, Merritt’s family-owned business sells about a million gallons of fuel a year. His wholesale supplier keeps tabs on his tanks remotely and schedules regular deliveries every three days or so.

“Retailers, like me, are at the mercy of the wholesalers who are at the mercy of the terminal. The terminal is at the mercy of the pipeline,” Merritt said.

Merritt received two deliveries the week of May 10, including 9,000 gallons of regular grade gas that arrived at his station on Thursday evening the 13th around 9:30 p.m. By mid-morning the next day, his tanks were half-depleted again.

It was also rough for tanker drivers, he said, who were busier than normal after the federal government and N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper issued temporary emergency exemptions that allowed motor carriers and drivers to work more hours and carry heavier loads.

“I had never heard my driver so stressed. He called ahead because he didn’t know if he had enough fuel in his tanker to keep going. He wanted to make sure I had enough diesel to get him back to Greensboro,” Merritt said. “As soon as he got here, we took him out a big bottle of water and pizza.”

Contact Laura Douglass at (910) 693-2474 or