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Sunoco's WNY presence grows with Mobil station acquisitions; Eight conversions set across Erie Niagara

You may notice some Mobil gas stations being converted to Sunoco stations soon.

A Pennsylvania gas station and convenience store owner and operator has shaken up its Western New York operations, selling several Mobil and Exxon locations to Sunoco as part of a larger deal with the oil and gas giant.

Lehigh Gas Corp. of Bethlehem, Pa., has sold at least eight stations in Erie and Niagara counties in the last three months -- seven in the last week -- for a total of at least $8.35 million, according to County Clerk's Office records in both counties.

The stations are located across the region, in Lackawanna, Boston, the Town of Tonawanda, Amherst, Cheektowaga and Lockport.

The sales are part of a larger deal in which Philadelphia-based Sunoco agreed in December to buy 25 stations from Lehigh in the Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany markets for an undisclosed price. That's part of its strategy to grow its retail gas and convenience store business, especially in areas where the company already has a strong brand and logistics capabilities. Sunoco has 4,800 stations in 23 states.

Ten of the stations will be operated by the company, while the rest will be operated by franchise dealers. The sites will begin converting to the Sunoco brand in April.

Additionally, Lehigh in November leased four of its other Mobil On the Run locations, including one at Delaware Avenue and Amherst Street in Buffalo, to Dallas-based convenience store giant 7-Eleven.

The company has already converted the four convenience stores into 7-Elevens, but Lehigh still offers Mobil-brand gas, said 7-Eleven spokeswoman Margaret Chabris. The stores are now company-operated but are available for franchise, she said.

The changes are not surprising to Josh Butler, manager of the Elmwood-Forest Mobil station at 1137 Elmwood Ave. in Buffalo. That station is not involved in either change, but Butler is familiar with what is happening, citing the higher cost and lower margins of operating a franchised Mobil or Exxon station versus other brands, especially Sunoco. Only three Mobils are now left in the area, according to the Exxon Mobil Corp. website.

"We'll see a resurgence of 7-Elevens," Butler said. "Mobils will be disappearing. It's not exactly profitable. If they're looking to sell, they're going to sell to Sunoco."

Lehigh is a gas station and convenience store company whose portfolio of stores includes locations that are company-operated, as well as those that are leased by franchise dealers.

The company was founded in 1992 by Joe Topper Jr. and is affiliated with Exxon, Mobil, Gulf, Sunoco, Shell, BP, Hess and Valero brands. It also operates On the Run convenience stores at the stations and has seven Dunkin' Donuts locations in Central Pennsylvania and 17 Wash & Roll Car Wash locations in both Pennsylvania and New York.

Lehigh officials did not return several telephone calls seeking comment. The privately owned company owns the stations through shell corporations named for each location.

The most recent two deals closed Tuesday, when Philadelphia-based Sunoco paid $1.1 million to buy a Mobil station at 4010 Delaware Ave. in the Town of Tonawanda and $750,000 to buy a Mobil station at 4505 Main St. in Snyder.

A day before, Lehigh sold a Mobil gas station in Cheektowaga to Sunoco for $1.05 million. The oil and gas giant bought the station at 3105 William St., at the corner of Union Road.

On March 10, four days earlier, four other stations sold. Sunoco paid $1.6 million to buy 7185 Boston State Road, home to an Exxon station, and bought a Mobil at 8100 Transit Road in Amherst for $1.3 million.

It also paid $900,000 to purchase the Mobils at 1694 Niagara Falls Blvd. in the Town of Tonawanda and $800,000 for 1361 Abbott Road in Lancaster.

Additionally, Lehigh sold the Mobil station at 5985 S. Transit Road in Lockport to Sunoco in January for $850,000.

All of the sellers are limited corporations registered to Lehigh.

Meanwhile, in an unrelated gas station transaction, also in January, Reemna Enterprises paid $707,000 to buy a Sunoco station at 211 Niagara St. in Buffalo from Swami Petroleum.

Swami is registered to a convenience store operator in Georgia, while Reemna is registered to the address of a solar power systems distributor in Lake View that is particularly active in Africa.

e-mail: jepstein@buffnews.com

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