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State lobbyist speaks out against proposed Seneca gas station in Niagara Falls

NIAGARA FALLS – The Seneca One Stop gas station/convenience store proposed for downtown Niagara Falls would be “a poke in the eye to local gasoline retailers,” according to the New York Association of Convenience Stores.

Association President James Calvin called the plan to put the operation on Seneca Niagara Casino property a “wolf in sheep’s” clothing and said his members fear it would sell untaxed cigarettes in addition to gas.

Calvin, speaking from Albany, said he frequently is in the State Capitol working on legislation that would impact association members, who sell motor fuel and tobacco products.

He said that while the decision remains in the hands of the state and the city, his organization definitely opposes the Senecas’ plan to open a gas station on their territory in Niagara Falls.

“There are established small businesses in and around Niagara Falls that sell motor fuel and convenience stores that collect taxes for the state and Niagara County, which filters down to the municipalities, including Niagara Falls,” Calvin said. “The rules imposed by the state are numerous and onerous, but all of our members comply with them.”

He noted that tribal stores are competitors that neither collects those taxes nor must abide by any of those regulations and therefore have prices that are dramatically lower.

“It’s not enough that the Senecas have been granted an exclusive no-bid franchise to mint money at the Niagara Falls casino,” he said, “now they have to siphon all the gasoline business away from law-abiding businesses as well.”

The Senecas are proposing to build an energy station with as many as 20 to 24 pumps that would sell gasoline and offer electric-charging stations. There also would be an adjoining convenience store. The new business, set to open in June, would be on Seneca Niagara territory at the corner of Niagara Street and John Daly Boulevard.

The proposal did not note whether the station would sell untaxed tobacco products, but only said it would sell “typical retail amenities.” However, most of the tribally owned stores in the Seneca One Stop chain do sell tobacco and, like their gasoline, are advertised online as “tax-free deals.”

Seneca Nation President Maurice A. John Sr. said in a written statement on Tuesday that the nation already has been granted by the federal government “sovereign control” over the 50-acre territory in Niagara Falls, and “determining the future use is the right and responsibility of the Seneca Nation.”

Calvin said if untaxed cigarettes are sold, it would be “particularly devastating.”

He said right now, with a $4.35 state excise tax as well as state and local taxes, local businesses are forced to charge an additional $5 per pack.

“That’s the automatic price advantage tribal stores have in relation to non-Indian taxpaying stores,” he said.

“This is unfair competition,” he said. “No business in New York State should have to face unfair competition.”

email: nfischer@buffnews.com