Lyle Beckwith is senior vice president
of government relations. He can be
reached at (703) 518-4220 or at
Fifty years ago, there were convenience stores that
had depreciation schedules of 39 years, and there
were gas stations with depreciation schedules of 15
years. Over time, some gas stations began closing
their service bays and started selling convenience
store items. At the same time, some convenience
stores began selling gasoline.
Pretty soon, this convergence of industries led
to situations where two stores with very different
pedigrees were operating across the street from
one another. One
was called ABC
the other XYZ Oil
had the exact same
square footage and
the exact same
product mix, but
In the 1990s,
NACS brought this
issue to Congress
and argued that
there was no distinc-
tion between the two
stores, and that a new definition of “gas station” need-
ed to be incorporated into the tax code. After much
hard work, the law was changed in a very simple and
elegant manner, to define a gas station as a business
where 50% or more of its gross receipts were derived
from the sale of motor fuels. Simple and fair.
Soon after our success, I received a call from
a lobbyist representing restaurants. His clients
were upset that some convenience stores could
now take the shorter depreciation, while restaurants still were saddled with the 39 years. “You
sell donuts and coffee and we sell donuts and
coffee…we should be treated the same,” he argued.
I suggested to him that if his donut-selling client
wanted to depreciate over 15 years, they should
put gas pumps in front of their stores, because the
depreciation distinction was based on the unique
aspect of selling gasoline — not coffee.
I suspect that the burr under the saddle of the
restaurants over depreciation helped lead to their
current push to draw convenience stores, grocers
and others they see as competition into the new
menu-labeling laws that they successfully sought
and brought onto themselves.
This latest fight began several years ago when cities and towns began passing ordinances requiring
fast-food chains to post caloric information on their
menus. Rather than face the possibility of complying with hundreds of different regulations, national
restaurant chains went to Congress and asked for
one federal law — with which they could easily
comply — that would pre-empt all the local laws.
They got what they asked for, and it was included in
the Affordable Care Act.
The mischief started when the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) began working on the details
of the new regulations. Restaurants submitted comments to FDA with pictures of convenience stores
and supermarkets, urging the FDA to include these
competitors in the rules they sought. This goes far
beyond the scope of any of the original ordinances
they pre-empted as convenience stores and supermarkets were never included.
It all comes down to the definition of a restaurant.
For this purpose, Congress should go back to what
worked before with depreciation schedules. If a
business derives 50% or more of gross receipts from
selling prepared food, then they are a restaurant
and subject to restaurant regulations. This is the
message NACS is taking to Congress.
And restaurants are still free to put gas
pumps next to the drive-thru window.
A gas station
is a business
or more of its
sale of motor