A C-Store Roadtrip: Chicago to Dayton

A 13-hour trek reveals an industry at its best, most mediocre

Steve Holtz, Editor in Chief, CSP Daily News

OAK BROOK, Ill. -- Mapquest told me I could make the roundtrip car ride from Chicago to Dayton, Ohio, in just over 10 hours. But with several stops to see the convenience-store industry at work (and the help of a minor blizzard), my 13 hours on the road delivered a wealth of firsthand looks at more than a half-dozen c-stores and a couple other interesting spots that I thought I'd share with CSP Daily News readers.

Specifically, the goal of my roadtrip was to visit a retailer outside Dayton. For that alone, the trip was beneficial and a learning experience. But the stops on the way there and back allowed me to see an industry at its best and its most mediocre.

Here, then, is a roundup of my roadside stops and highlights of each one. Click here to see a related slideshow.

Chicago to Dayton

Hinsdale BP, Hinsdale, Ill.

  • Most-striking details: Bills itself as "the pride of Hinsdale." Beautiful hard-wood floors.
  • Gasoline price: $3.599
  • Greeting: "Hi" at checkout.
  • Goodbye: "Thanks. Have a nice evening."
  • Food eaten: Hotdog. It was a Vienna Beef hotdog, which are hard to mess up. Still, this one was lukewarm.

Family Express, Rensselaer, Ind.

  • Most-striking details: Impossible-to-miss beverage fountain and coffee sets.
  • Gasoline price: $3.599
  • Greeting: "Hello."
  • Goodbye: "You have a nice day."
  • Food eaten: Turkey sub (really good, fresh, good "bite") & blue raspberry SqueezeFreeze ("just OK").

Fast Max Sunoco, Greenfield, Ind.

  • Most-striking details: Gasoline price (23 cents lower than store across the street).
  • Gasoline price: $3.359
  • Greeting: None.
  • Goodbye: Have a nice day.
  • Food eaten: None. (Didn't have breakfast offer.)

GasAmerica, Greenfield, Ind.

  • Most-striking details: Wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables (Bananas. Apples. Potatoes! Onions!).
  • Gasoline price: $3.589
  • Greeting: "How ya doin'? Anything I can help you with?" (while I was looking around store).
  • Goodbye: "Have a good day."
  • Food eaten: French Toast Sausage, Egg & Cheese. Hearty and filling. Tasted and smelled better than it looked. (See photo.)

Return trip: Dayton to Chicago

Speedway, Fairborn, Ohio

  • Most-striking details: Foodservice placed front and center; exceptionally friendly staff.
  • Gasoline price: $3.599
  • Greeting: "Howdy! How are you?"
  • Goodbye: "Nice seeing you. Have a nice day!"
  • Food eaten: Polish sausage. Very good.

Valero Food Mart, Lewisburg, Ind.

  • Most-striking details: Neighborhood atmosphere. The clerk knew most every customer by name.
  • Gasoline price: $3.579
  • Greeting: "Hello. How are you?"
  • Goodbye: "Take care."
  • Food eaten: Cheeseburger. Like bar food.

McClure Fuel Stop, Lebanon, Ind.

  • Most-striking details: Large lot to serve truck traffic. Entrances on both sides of store.
  • Gasoline price: $3.659 (5 cents off for paying with cash)
  • Greeting: None.
  • Goodbye: "Take care."
  • Food eaten: None. (A guy can only eat so much.)

Other noteworthy stops:

Heading out of Ohio on Interstate 70 into Indiana, I was struck by a string of billboards for an unnamed location that offered "beautiful restrooms" and an alternative to "road food" in its Stone Hearth Café. I kept my eyes peeled and eventually came upon the Warm Glow Candle Outlet in Centerville, Ind. This large and ornate shop encouraged motorists to sit and relax. Like a mom and pop Cracker Barrel, this site sells decorations, jams and, of course candles. There are no gas pumps, no cigarettes and no packaged beverages, and the place plays to tourists. But with its ornate restrooms--the men's room plays off local history as the birthplace of the Wright Brothers--and comfort-food atmosphere, there's certainly an effort to draw weary travelers that might otherwise break for a convenience store or truckstop.

A couple exits farther west, I came upon the Amish Cheese Shop in Cambridge City, Ind., (population: 1,870). Set up in a former gas station, this store was the polar opposite of the Candle Outlet. Dark, dank restrooms were accessible only from the outside, and all fixtures were purely utilitarian. The cheese is good. The atmosphere? Not so much.

Steve Holtz, CSP/Winsight By Steve Holtz, Editor in Chief, CSP Daily News
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