Stores that have attractions beyond gasoline — like a made-to-order sandwich bar, or a Redbox video rental machine — have somewhat inoculated themselves from the drop in business, Portalatin said.
On a national scale, two events from the past year were cited as major causes of the record-setting average: a refinery fire in California and Hurricane Sandy’s disruption of production along the East Coast.
California’s fire sent prices rising dramatically in that state, especially since the state’s stricter environmental standards for fuel prevent motorists from using gas acceptable in other states. When the fire caused supplies to drop, some parts of California consistently registered gasoline at $4.70 per gallon.
The damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy in early November was seen in the days immediately following the East Coast storm. In the week before the hurricane, refineries along the East Coast were operating at 81 percent, according to the Energy Department.
One week later: 58.5 percent.
The East Coast refineries have started to stabilize since then, with the most recent weekly figures measuring the output at 77.1 percent.
Between now and Christmas, Gregg Laskoski, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.com, expects prices to move incrementally lower -- the end of the fourth quarter is typically a tempered one at the pump, he said, and output should continue to increase as more refineries recover from the storm’s losses.
But consumers should expect prices to rise after the New Year’s Eve ball drops, he said. The price increases should become particularly noticeable in mid-February and through March and April as conversions to different seasonal blends always force a price increase.