With boycotts and protests popping up all over Central Florida, one independent franchise owner of BP gas stations is speaking up.
He said the boycotts don't affect BP, the oil company; they affect the community.
The Seize BP campaign, which has helped organize BP protests across the country, is asking individuals to sign petitions, urging the government to seize BP assets and use those assets to provide relief for those who have been affected by the Gulf oil spill. Other protesters are calling for a boycott of all BP gas stations entirely until BP cleans up its mess. Seize BP.org has held eight protests that span all over the state of Florida: from Tallahassee to Orlando to Key West and nationally, it has staged an estimate of 52 protests.
Russell Scaramella, an Atlanta-based independent franchise owner, owns all 28 BP gas stations in the greater Orlando area. This means Scaramella has a 20-year contract with BP, where he pays the oil giant a fee for the right to operate and he has all franchise rights to the gas station sites.
Scaramella said he understands people are mad at BP, but they are directing their anger at the wrong people.
"We are a part of the city, a part of your community, and you're only hurting your neighbors by boycotting my business," Scaramella said. "I have over 300 employees that rely on a paycheck…."
Sandi Weaver, a Winter Park resident, said the oil spill has made her think twice about going to the gas stations, but it hasn't changed her shopping habits.
"By boycotting, you're affecting your own economy because you're affecting that person's business," Weaver said . "Just pass up on going there [to BP gas stations] rather than standing outside with signs. I bet if you stopped and asked them [the boycotters] if they knew the gas stations were a franchise or a corporation, they couldn't tell you."
Orlando resident Antonio Franco, one of the organizers behind the June 5 Lake Eola protest and Seize BP campaign, said the purpose of their campaign was to get petitions signed and distribute information out to the public.
"We are calling on the government to seize the assets of BP," Franco said.
Franco said their campaign involved him and a group of people tabling outside of Lake Eola area and not protesting in front of BP gas stations.
"The difference between our campaign and the other boycotts is that we are not targeting the BP gas stations, because we recognize they are franchised-owned," Franco said.
"We are targeting the CEOs and trustees of BP — the people who have the money to pay for this mess."
On June 16, the Obama administration made an agreement with BP, the oil company, where it will place $20 billion into an escrow account over the next three years. The money will help aid relief to claims made for damages caused by the oil spill.
This $20 billion escrow account will cancel out all three dividends BP was set to pay out to "legitimate claims" of loss of business.
University of Central Florida economist Sean Sniath said relatively speaking, the BP boycotts are much smaller than the pain the company has felt overall with its stock value decreasing and the $20 billion escrow account it created.
"The irony of boycotting BP, in a way to protest the oil spill, is it actually undermines their ability to compensate for the damage done and to pay for the cleanup," Sniath said. "If it was widespread enough and began to hurt the company's revenues, then their ability, I think, to pay for the damages could potentially be undermined."
Scaramella said it is difficult for him to gage how the boycotts have affected his business, because he is a new owner, and he doesn't have previous records to indicate if there has been a decrease in sales. However, he said the potential loss of customers could affect many aspects of his business.
"I might have to back down and not support local charities, and there may be potential layoffs," said Scaramella. "The boycotts have caused us to freeze everything we are doing."
One charity Scaramella contributes to is the Autism Speaks Puzzle Piece Campaign where he and his family participates in a walk that helps raise awareness and funds for autism research.
Residents of the Central Florida community say they are upset with the BP oil spill, but they don't intend to take their frustration out on local business owners or their employees.
Brenda Zarate, a Winter Park resident, is undecided about the BP boycotts.
"In a way it lets the larger corporation know as consumers, we are unhappy with BP, and how they didn't take precautions to prevent the oil spill from happening," Zarate said.
"On the other hand, it's not right to hurt independent store owners."
Ed Dobosh, an Oviedo resident, said, "I want the boycotters to realize that boycotting the local independent BP is not helping with cleaning up the oil spill; it hurts the local business owner."
In response to the boycotts, Scaramella said he wishes the people of the greater Orlando area would judge the BP gas stations on their own experience and not on the Gulf spill.
"Would BP feel it if there were no BPs in Orlando?" asked Scaramella. "No, they would sell gas to other places, because BP is a multi-national corporation, and they sell gas to everybody."