Tyler Graham is taking drivers who fuel up at his local gas station back in time to the days when a friendly face and pair of hands greeted customers to pump their gas.

Rather than wallowing in the struggles and life alterations brought on by the COVID-19 virus, Graham, owner of Graham’s Sinclair on South Burr Street, is finding unique ways to adapt at his gas station and convenience store. When the novel coronavirus began spreading into South Dakota and in Mitchell on March 10, Graham was exploring for ways to adjust his business operation.

To reduce the potential spreading of the highly contagious virus, one of Graham’s solutions was to begin offering customers the option to call on a Graham Sinclair staff member to pump their gas with gloves.

“We are committed to helping our patrons out, because helping one another out in a time in need is what it’s all about,” Graham said after he helped a customer fuel up a vehicle. “I began doing it to offer helpful ways for people to stay safe and healthy, but it really took off from there.”

Considering some health experts have stated the virus can live on surfaces for an allotted amount of time that varies widely depending who the source is, the volume of hands that touch gas handles on a daily basis could cause someone to contract the virus. But Graham has implemented more ways to help people avoid contracting the virus, as gloves are provided upon request for those who choose to pump their own gas at Graham’s Sinclair.

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Graham said the feedback he has received from community members has been strong since he began offering the full-service fuel up option roughly two weeks ago, leading to an uptick in business. With the attached casino being forced to close its doors, the increase in business partly driven by the full service option helps offset some revenue loss during the pandemic.

“With things slowing down a bit the past few weeks, it was an added bonus to do this because we didn’t have to lay anyone off,” Graham said.

Although utilizing a gas station attendant is optional at Graham’s Sinclair, Graham said many customers have been capitalizing on the free service. It has also taken some customers down memory lane, which has provided a ray of positive light. The Shell gas station at the Highland Conference Center in Mitchell is another gas station that is offering the full service option amid the virus outbreak.

“I think it has also helped bring some positive energy to people who come and use the full service option, and we have met some great people who tell us they love that we are doing this,” he said. “It brings some great memories back for some people, and it’s always fun hearing the stories and getting to know someone a little better.”

Inside Graham’s Sinclair, things have looked a lot different since the virus. In the corner of the convenience store sits a table where locals frequently gather over a cup of coffee. But that has changed since the virus outbreak.

The opportunity to meet new faces from all over the country when Graham’s gas station attendants fuel up vehicles has provided a temporary supplement from seeing and chatting with the locals who start their day at Graham’s Sinclair. While Graham would like to see normalcy return at his store, he said the full service option will be there as long as it is necessary for the safety of his customers.

“We are going to do this as long as there is a need, and we will be here to help in any way we can during this time,” Graham said. “Where to help in any way we can, and it is great to see so many other businesses doing the same. We’re in this together.”

Gas prices

With the volume of business and tourist attraction closures across the country, travel has come to a screeching halt as of recent. Factoring in the economic slowdown the virus has caused, recession fears have been looming, which is believed to be playing a major role in the gas prices plummeting paired with Saudi Arabia cutting crude oil prices and increasing production.

Graham had to think back to when he recalls gas prices dropping to the level he’s seen at his station. At Graham’s Sinclair, gas prices for regular fuel have been sitting around $1.80 per gallon since the COVID-19 virus impacted the economy. Throughout the decade that Graham has been running his gas station and convenience store, he said gas prices have never dipped as low as they are right now.

“In hard times like this, it is nice to see some relief at the pumps,” Graham said.

According to AAA, the average national gas price was at $1.90 for regular fuel. A total of 33 states have price averages that are less than $2, according to AAA’s updated figures.

It’s been just over 10 years since the national average gas prices fell below $2, which occurred in 2008 during the recession. In addition, the Western Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil price per barrel was $24.04.