A 10-cent increase in a gallon of gas means Mainers’ pocketbooks get the squeeze.

Ken Bragg believes a wide selection of 48 pops, bars and sandwiches gives him a competitive ice-cream-man edge.

But it’s got one drawback in times like these.

Children take…their…time…picking out a treat. It means more idling of his ice cream truck.

That means more gas.

To hold prices steady he’s had to skip low-volume streets and prearrange more big-ticket stops, like four day cares in Poland.

“We are asking people to buy an extra ice cream if they could. I’m just a one-truck ice cream man. It does hurt,” said Bragg. His Rainbow Ice Cream, a 1985 pink-painted bread truck, is out of Monmouth.

This week everyone felt a pinch at the pump. Prices rose 10 cents from Tuesday to Tuesday, according to AAA, for a midweek statewide average of $2.33 a gallon. That’s a record-high sticker price.

People in Maine buy more than 1.7 million gallons of regular unleaded a day, according to the federal Energy Information Agency.

When the price jumps a dime, that’s $174,000-plus out of our collective pockets. A day.

The cost of a gallon in Lewiston-Auburn has gone up 40 cents in the last year.

Cha-ching.

More bad news: Gas consumption peaks in Maine next month. Barring quick relief, that’s even more to fork over.

All those extra nickels and dimes are having a trickle effect for consumers.

Skip Girouard at Dube’s Flower and Gift Shop just raised the price of flower delivery from $3 to $5- between higher costs from wholesalers and his own gasoline, it costs more to motor roses around Lewiston.

Androscoggin Home Health and Hospice just increased its mileage rate for traveling aides who’re paying about $15 more a week for gas. That extra 2-cent reimbursement puts the nonprofit out $52,000 over a year’s time, said Human Resources Director Ann Weaver.

Scott Riccio of NorthEast Charter and Tour Co. of Lewiston has stopped giving firm quotes on bus trips more than six months away. Too much could change. He’s already expecting to pay $30,000 more for fuel this year.

To help make that up, passengers are paying 50 cents to $1 more a trip.

“We want to be in business a year from now,” said Riccio. “We have to cover our costs. People understand that.”

Money out the tailpipe

To guard their own wallets, drivers here are already laying off the high-test stuff.

Sales of premium gasoline have dropped from 63,300 gallons a day in April 2004 to 49,300 a day in April 2005, according to the EIA.

Consumers are also hitting the Web.

More than 1,100 people have sent cheap gas tips to mainegasprices.com, sharing the pump prices at their local stations. Twice that many are visiting each day to check out the site, a spokesman said.

Prices around the state on Friday varied from $2.23 to $2.51 for a gallon of regular.

But individuals can only control so much.

Associated Grocers, a co-op in Gardiner that buys and distributes groceries to independent stores in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, had to increase its delivery fuel surcharge an average of 6 percent this month.

“That’s definitely going to affect prices,” said Cathy Callahan, assistant to the president. “They’re passing it on to customers.” It can take two weeks, she said, for an outside increase to nudge shelf prices.

A spokeswoman for Hannaford said that grocery chain has so far absorbed higher costs, but that might not hold if gas prices continue to go up. Officials at Wal-Mart and Shaw’s declined to comment.

The gas price jump is hitting farmers here at a bad time with harvesting – i.e. more diesel needs – just around the corner.

Don Ricker at Ricker Hill Orchards of Turner has to spend $1,130 more a year for every dime increase.

“I’m not sure we can raise our prices enough next year to cover that,” he says.

L-A taxis don’t even have that option. Cab fares in Lewiston-Auburn are based on zone prices set by the cities.

Companies eat the difference when gas prices rise. If they swing high enough, fast enough – 20 cents in two weeks – they can ask city hall for a temporary increase.

“Our profits go right out the tailpipe,” said one local dispatcher who asked not be identified.

‘Gas tips please’

A 10-cent increase in a week’s time isn’t by itself a major concern for Maine’s economy, says acting State Economist Galen Rose.

He figures the average motorist traveling 15,000 miles a year would have been out another $1.50 to fill up this week.

“At that level it’s rather trivial – it’s the perception more than the dollars,” he said. It’s when people stop spending in anticipation of prices rising even farther that it becomes a big problem.

He’s forecasting an otherwise average economic summer for Maine.

AAA spokesman Matt McKenzie said so far people are still driving and vacationing here, but are sticking slightly closer to home or keeping trips short.

Increasingly, some travelers are looking to double-up to save a few dimes.

“We’ve got waiting lists for vans that don’t even exist yet, so you’ve got to tie that to the price of gas,” said Carey Kish, program manager of the GO MAINE van and car-pool program with routes from Portland to Augusta and Lewiston to Augusta. “I think it’s hitting home.”

One of those waiting lists is a new route from Lewiston to Portland.

There are lots of costs to having a car, he said: driving, insurance, oil changes, tires. The most visible is the regular trip to the pump.

Ice cream man Bragg, whose own gas costs have jumped from $17 a day last summer to $24 to $29 this summer, said his customers are pitching in. A “gas tips please” jar sees about $4 a day, which helps.

Staff writers Carol Coultas, Doug Fletcher and Christopher Williams contributed to this story.


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