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    Sinclair Puts Stores On Auction Block

    With the sale of nine c-store/gas stations, company exits Montana's retail gas business.

    GREAT FALLS, Mont. -- Sinclair Oil Corp. is leaving the retail gas business in Montana -- at least for now. The Salt Lake City-based company plans to auction off nine gas station/c-store properties in the state and four in Idaho, the Great Falls Tribune reported.

    Of the five affected properties in Great Falls, two are closed and vacant, while two others are leased to other businesses. Only one is an operating station, the newspaper said. In addition, Sinclair has one station each in Lewistown, Helena, Kalispell and Bozeman, Idaho.

    "Sinclair has looked at some of the properties and decided they are going to reinvest in larger-sized properties," said Mark London, the company's retail real estate manager.

    The move only affects stations owned by Sinclair. A number of independently-owned stations that sell Sinclair gasoline will not be affected, according to the company. "These are all the properties we have up there in Montana," London said. "We still have a lot of distributors who are operating under the Sinclair brand, including the Noon's stations. They will still be there."

    The company had been trying to find people to lease some of the vacant properties.

    "We had been trying to lease them for awhile," said Mark Macek, a commercial real estate broker in Great Falls. "We didn't have a lot of people interested in them."

    London said he didn't have specific knowledge about the competitive situation among gasoline retailers in Montana. But Jeff Averill, who recently decided to close the Country Club Express, which sold Sinclair gas, said small operators are having a difficult time competing against big corporate players. Averill leased his property to Cenex/Kum & Go.

    "I know there are a lot of factors there," London told the Great Falls Tribune. "In our locations, we never put in casinos, like Town Pump has. That's obviously a factor in the revenue situation."

    Sinclair owns a number of ranches and other property in Montana. At some point, it may choose to build or buy other gas station/c-store operations in the state, London added.

    The Great Falls properties, along with those in Helena and Lewistown, will be auctioned at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 26 at the Hampton Inn in Great Falls.

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