TRAVERSE CITY — By LORAINE ANDERSON
Gas prices at Traverse City stations range from $4.05 to $4.09.
To Debra Smith, that means she doesn't get to see her eight grandchildren in Mount Pleasant as often as she'd like.
Michigan's average gas price is down 8 cents this week from the week before, but it's still 9.4 cents more than last year at this time, AAA Michigan reported this week.
Smith used to visit her grandchildren each week, and paid $20 for gas each way before prices climbed over $3 and spiked to above $4 a gallon in recent weeks.
Now it costs $35 each way, or $70 total. She drives a 2004 Pontiac that gets about 27 miles a gallon.
"I pretty much live from paycheck-to-paycheck," she said during a fueling stop at the Holiday station on M-22 Wednesday morning.
Smith works at an adult foster care home south of Traverse City and drives 30 miles a day round trip from her home west of the city.
Nancy Cain, AAA spokewoman, attributed the recent spike in pump prices to the slow startup of Gulf Coast refineries in preparation for Hurricane Isaac, which has affected the supply chain.
Meanwhile, demand was up because of good weather, which drove prices up over the Labor Day weekend.
Cain expects prices to slip over the next few weeks because they typically fall in the weeks after the September holiday.
Laura Grezner, a mother of two young children, said she spent $200 on gas last week.
She lives six miles west of Kalkaska and takes classes at Northwestern Michigan College three times a week.
Last week, she had to drive to Traverse City four times and to Grayling and back twice for her kids' sports games.
"You have to drive so far up here to go anywhere," she said while refueling after a grocery shopping stop at Meijer. "You have to be frugal and can't do the extras."
Grezner's youngest child, Nicolas, 4, will start preschool next week. Her Honda SUV gets about 22 miles a gallon.
Her husband, an electrician, has been working as an Army contract worker in Afghanistan for three years. Before that he was in business with his father, who has a mobile home business in Grayling.
Brian Allman, part-owner of Allman & Sons, a spray insulation service in Fife Lake, said it costs about $80 to fill his pickup's tank.
"It's been cheaper in Fife Lake almost all summer," he said. "You got to watch where you buy."
It's still too early to tell gas prices' impact on tourism and area business.
Cain said three pre-summer tourism surveys conducted by AAA Michigan indicated that people planned to travel even if gas prices rose, but they also would trim expenses by purchasing fewer souvenirs, less and expensive meals and not staying as long.
Brad VanDommelen, director of the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, said overall tourism in the Traverse City area rose significantly in spring and summer, though it was down in January because of little snow.
He attributed the rise to the bureau's advertising, as well as its second year of involvement in the Pure Michigan campaign.
The Pure Michigan campaign makes the bureau's advertising more effective because it helps break down stereotypes and misconceptions about Michigan, he added.
"It's hard for us to get people to come here if people don't know anything about Michigan," he said.