Open & Shut: 7-3-2007

A national roundup of recent station and store openings, closings and sales

Published in CSP Daily News

OAK BROOK, Ill. -- Although the pressures of low margins and competition affect the entire gas station and convenience store industry, they are felt most keenly by smaller retailers, often forcing them out of business or into retirement. But the industry still also offers great opportunities, with many stations and stores opening and changing hands around the country, including those offering new fuel and retail concepts.

CSP Daily News offers another installment of Open & Shut. Although far from comprehensive, this digest of recent business activity [image-nocss] illustrates both the pressures and the promises that the industry holds for its entrepreneurs.

Florida

Daytona Beach-based Gas Stations USA is developing two 7-Elevens, one in DeLand and one in Daytona Beach, said The Daytona Beach News-Journal. The company is nearing completion on the first phase of Big Tree Crossings, a four-building complex in DeLand. That project includes the c-store and the company's corporate offices, both of which should open in mid-August. The other buildings, which will include 9,000 and 15,000 sq. ft. of retail space, should be completed in about 180 days. Gas Stations USA also has other projects in development, including another station/c-store.

Illinois

In mid-June, co-owner Greg Patel with his wife Rita converted the Quick Way Foods c-store in Lincoln, Ill., into Famous Liquors, said The Courier. He said they have discontinued grocery items other than milk. It will also continue to carry a selection of snack foods, tobacco, adult magazines and adult video games.

The Starved Rock BP-Amoco in Utica closed in mid-June, said The Times. Besides fuel, it offered camping supplies, groceries and various items. The two owners of the station did not live in the area, and have been settling legal issues in court. When the bank took over the gas station one year ago, the owner of another local station was appointed to run the station. It closed after the minimum bid was set at $1.2 million and nobody showed up at the auction, according to Utica Mayor Fred Esmond. Somebody will end up buying it, he said.

Kansas

Since June 1, a Kansas City-area gas station that has sat empty for several years is back in service, said KC Community News. Owner Farhan Kahn said the business' location facing the city's ball fields was one of his reasons for purchasing the property. There's a lot of development to the north, but not much to the south, Kahn said. This is near the center of town. There's a lot of life here.

Maine

The Irving c-store and restaurant in Searsport has a new owner and will soon have a new name and new look. Irving Oil has sold the business to Maritime Energy Co., Rockland, said The Village Soup. It is the ninth Maritime Farms location said Maritime Energy vice president Susan Ware. The company, she said, jumped at the chance to have a c-store in the region. It's a good destination for commuters, tourists and the locals here, she said. Maritime plans to renovate the space and partner with a franchise to occupy the restaurant area. The company also sells oil, propane, diesel and bio-diesel fuels. Employees currently working for Irving will be invited to stay on, said Ware, and Maritime expects to add to the existing staff.

Maryland

Giant Eagle opened a GetGo fuel station in Frederick at the former Dodson's Texaco, said The News-Post. Customers shopping at Giant Eagle get fuelperks at the station, which has eight fuel stations and a c-store, but the auto repair service will no longer be offered.

Michigan

A 7-Eleven in Norton Shores has closed with the retirement of franchise owners Jerry and Rose Ann Sauer, said The Muskegon Chronicle. It was the last of four 7-Elevens in Muskegon County. The couple have been running 7-Eleven stores since 1979. Jerry bought his first 7-Eleven franchise in 1971. Rose Ann operated the store while her husband ran several small on-base military retail operations in West Michigan. They purchased their second 7-Eleven in 1992. The area franchiser is in Saginaw, and it has been a challenge to support the stores out in Muskegon, Jerry said. They said they would remain in Muskegon as long as I wanted to keep the store. When the Sauers decided to retire, they and the area franchiser approached a former manager for possible ownership, but that person wasn't interested. With no options to sell the business, Jerry said the decision was made to close the store. The store is under lease until October. The building is owned by a Detroit businessman. Jerry said he doesn't know if 7-Eleven or the owner will find another c-store operator for the building.

After 26 years, Midland's oldest Express Mart has closed, said The Midland Daily News, because of lagging business. The other two stores will remain open, said Dave Gray, who operates all three stores as well as Daddy O's diner. The closed store had been underperforming for a couple of years, and I just was living with it and accepting it, partly out of loyalty to the neighborhood and the fact that I grew up in the store, he said. With the other businesses and two young children to supervise, his time ended up getting stretched too thin, he said. And after the minimum wage increased, he no longer could afford to keep well above the minimum, so it became much harder to keep quality people, he said. Gray continues to hold out hope for the Eastman store. I'm in negotiations with a couple different parties that may potentially continue to operate it as a convenience store, he said.

New Hampshire

When a gas station makes 4 cents for each gallon of the 1,000 it sells a day, and it costs up to $800 a week to employ three attendants, something's got to give, said Foster's Daily Democrat. For Tri-City Towing in Rochester, it was the gasoline service itself, along with the pumps, USTs, canopy and CITGO sign. Tri-City Towing will continue operating the service department. It was the city's oldest, still-operating full-service station. Tri-City has owned the business for a little more than a year. Owner David Winship said, For the small business owner to pump gas, you're going to lose money. The only ones that win are the big oil companies. Winship's consignment deal with H.A. Mapes Inc., Springvale, Maine, had his business taking in 4 cents for each gallon sold. Without a c-store, we just don't do enough gas here to support payroll and overhead costs, he said. We lost money every week. Tri-City employees estimated they served 50 to 60 customers each day, pumping 800 to 1,000 gallons.

New Mexico

An Allsup's c-store in Carlsbad has closed its doors to undergo renovations and will open after several weeks under new ownership as a Brewer Oil c-store, said The Current-Argus. Tom Hennessy, retail operations manager for Brewer, said his company had previously held a lease arrangement with Allsup's at the location, but Brewer will now be opening its own facility there. It will be the sixth Brewer store in Carlsbad. The store will have a hot food program.

North Carolina

Eastern Petroleum, Enfield, plans to open a travel center, which will include a food court, for travelers on Interstate 95 near Roanoke Rapids. It will be part of the Carolina Crossroads development, Carolina Crossroads will be the home of 300,000 sq. ft. of outlet retail stores and 20,000 sq. ft. of specialty retail shops, restaurants and theaters, as well as a Hilton hotel and an RV resort.

North Dakota

Dan's Oil & Service, West Fargo, N.D., has been sold, effective July 1, to Petro Serve USA, said The West Fargo Pioneer, citing an announcement from owners Audrey Casperson, Carol Fjelstad, Elaine Wilhelmi and Dennis Rheault. The decision to sell was based on the retirement of Audrey, Elaine and Carol; Dennis will remain on board as bulk fuel manager. We didn't have anybody in the family expressing an interest to become involved, Dennis said, so we decided the timing seemed right to do it now. This has been a great community to do business in. We've really enjoyed dealing with all our customers over the years and are grateful for their loyalty. We hope that we've served everyone well the duration of our time and are looking for that same service to continue. In accomplishing that, we tried to pick out the best fit all around. We are convinced that Petro Serve is the perfect choice and will do an excellent job for the customers and the total operation in general. In a letter to customers, the Rheault's said the decision was especially difficult considering our loyal customers, employees, business relationships and community. However, we are confident that Petro Serve USA is the best company to continue the business that was founded by our father. The new ownership also has a long-term history in the Fargo-Moorhead area and will offer a stronger competitive base in order to provide the quality products and service that we have strived to deliver since 1941. We ask for your continued support for the business, under the new ownership. The business will continue under the name of Dan's OilA Division of Petro Serve USA. The ownership transfer includes two gas/c-stores and a bulk oil delivery service. All employees will be retrained. Dan's Service Center, located at one of the c-stores, is not affiliated with Petro Serve USA and will continue to operate there as a separate business.

Misty Waters Marina, complete with its full-service c-store, officially opened for business in late June, said The Bismarck Tribune. The 1,800-sq.-ft. store offers Tesoro-brand fuel on the water as well as on land. It has a Godfather's Pizza Express, as well as on- and off-sale liquor. There's also an outdoor patio area with radiant heat in the ceiling.

Ohio

The new Stop'n Go in Wooster near the Ohio Agricultural Research & Development Center is the first in the family-owned chain to feature a hitching post, chain president and CEO Becky Shotwell told The Daily Record. The store features a Subway, Marketplace with hand-dipped ice cream and a different hot entree daily (such as chicken alfredo and rigatoni, chipotle chicken and rice), an ATM, car wash, gasoline, lottery, beer, wine and groceries. The exterior and interior store design earned the American Advertising Federation's Addy Award.

Oklahoma

One of two gas stations on the Will Rogers Turnpike in northeastern Oklahoma closed in late June, said the Associated Press. Oklahoma Turnpike Authority spokesperson Jack Damrill said fuel provider EZ GO decided not to renew the lease in Miami. The closure will make the Vinita service plaza the only place for westbound motorists to stop for fuel and food between the Missouri state line and Tulsa without leaving the turnpike. Damrill said the Turnpike Authority tried to get other fuel providers to service the location, but none considered the location a reliable money-maker.

Pennsylvania

A PenMart c-store and gas station with Dunkin' Donuts being built in Tunkhannock Township will likely open by August, said The Wyoming County Press Examiner. Developer Eric May said self-service station will have eight pumps.

The former owner of the Connellsville Shop N Save said he plans to remain active in the city's business community. Although he sold his Connellsville supermarket and gas station to SuperValu Inc., Tim Siefert told The Daily Courier he will continue to operate beer distributor Siefert Distributing. Siefert also sold the nearby gas station.

Gary Bewick has sold Bewick's Service Station, a full-service gas station, to Dunmore resident and mechanic Dino Sabetell, who will continue to operate the station, said The Citizen's Voice.

Texas

Waterstone Development Group is partnering with grocer Wag-a-Bag to bring a new luxury convenience concept store to its Davenport Ranch residential community, said the Austin Business Journal. Called Tuscany Market, it will have the look and feel of an old-world Italian market, said Robert Wunsch, head of Waterstone. The market will have gasoline and coffee, but also a cafe, upscale grocery items and a patio.

Virginia

Fuel Co., a Charlottesville gas station that also featured an upscale bistro, has closed its doors, said The Daily Progress. The windows were covered with butcher's paper and signs on the windows and doors said, Closed. Thank you for your patronage. In a statement, owner Patricia Kluge said she closed Fuel because she needed more time to focus on the Kluge Estate Winery & Vineyard.

Wisconsin

The Renew Fuel Station under construction in Grand Chute, was expected to be open by the Fourth of July, said The Post-Crescent. The small unmanned stationa canopy and a couple of pumps with no attached c-storeoffers E85 made from local corn. Prices fluctuate, but it can be as much as 75 cents a gallon less than conventional gasoline, with a fuel efficiency drop of about 1 to 3 miles per gallon, said Jay Stoflet, director of retailing for Renew Fuel Stations, Oshkosh. The station also sells unleaded plus with 10% ethanol. Renew Fuel is the idea of five men from Oshkosh in agriculture or related fields. One is a logger, two are farmers and two own grain mills in Winnebago and Waushara counties. Their company, Utica Energy, owns an ethanol plant near Oshkosh. It has 10 other Renew Fuel stations. We have plans for about five to six stations in the Fox Cities market, Stoflet said. Whatever becomes the next alternative fuel choice, we want to make sure our stations can offer that. Let's say hydrogen becomes the next fuel. We would develop fueling stations for that.

Canada

AlgoDyne Ethanol Energy Inc. is launching its Mobile Eco-Stop Service Station concept with its first location in Regina, Saskatchewan. This new station located near the intersection of one of Regina's busiest corridors will create both brand recognition for the company as well as becoming a sales platform from which to launch additional stations, it said.