CHICAGO -- Roadside attractions—giant lumberjacks, “world’s largest” fiberglass fish, Cadillacs on spikes and mystery spots—have been a part of the motoring landscape as long as there have been cars and roads. Gas stations and convenience stores always have been a part of that symbiotic relationship, often becoming the roadside attraction themselves in the form of retail outlets shaped like teepees, teapots and other architectural oddities.
In more recent times, c-stores have added unusual amenities, products, services or gimmicks to capture the attention of customers and become a destination.
With a new Petro Stopping Center in Columbia, S.C., that features a bowling alley, parent company TravelCenters of America (TA) and Brunswick are bringing strikes and spares to a new setting, a first for the two industries.
So with TA expanding its usual amenities and services to encompass such an unusual attraction, CSP decided to take a look at a few of the most unusual, functioning gas stations and c-stores around the country …
“We’re always trying to do something a little out of the ordinary at our centers,” said John Ponczoch, senior vice president of food operations for TA, Westlake, Ohio.
The chain wanted to differentiate its travel centers and provide a type of entertainment “that would resonate with [its] core guests while attracting new customers,” he said. “We looked at a number of options and decided bowling would be a great fit.”
The facility also includes a 6,700-square-foot arcade gaming area and two golf and gun-range simulators. It will also host outdoor events, including live music, car shows, bike rallies and more.
Sinclair Oil’s Dino the dinosaur is one of the most iconic oil-company logos of all time. Many Sinclair gas stations sport fiberglass Dino statues, but the Sinclair Dyno Depot in Lake Delton, Wis., in the Wisconsin Dells, takes that to a new level. It features a more than 40-foot version as part of the station’s architecture, with the apatosaurus’ front legs serving as the entranceway to the c-store.
Dinosaurs first appeared in Sinclair marketing in 1930 as part of a campaign to educate customers on the origin of fossil fuels. The dinosaurs appeared again as life-sized fiberglass models at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York.
In November 2016, Salt Lake City-based Sinclair began its yearlong centennial celebration. A 75-pound, 12-foot-long, 3-foot-wide, 6-foot-tall fiberglass likeness of Dino traveled the country from California to New York; the journey culminating with the 90th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. Sinclair’s balloon, the only life-sized balloon in the parade, measured 72 feet long, 24 feet wide and 36 feet tall.
Pops 66 in Arcadia, Okla., is a convenience store, gas station and “soda ranch” on Route 66 that offers more than 700 varieties of soda from many national and regional brands, from the well-known to the obscure.
The restaurant and soda fountain specializes in burgers and shakes.
The site, near Oklahoma City, features a stylized, 66-foot-tall soda bottle and straw. At night, LED lights transform it into a light show with an array of colors and patterns.
Cookin’ From Scratch
Ozark Oil Co., Newburg, Mo., operates Cookin’ From Scratch, a Phillips 66 gas station and convenience store with a diner attached, just off Route 66 in Doolittle, Mo.
What makes this location unusual is the giant fiberglass chicken that nests in the back of a red Chevy El Camino. While mobile, it parks out front of the station and is visible from the road, drawing in many motorists traveling along Interstate 44 for a look or a photo opportunity.
Cookin’ From Scratch offers the King of the Road Burger Challenge, a 66-ounce hamburger that must be eaten in 66 minutes. The meal includes the burger with bun and nine pieces of American cheese, 1.5 pounds of french fries, pickle slices, lettuce, tomato and onion. Successful eaters are declared a “King of the Road” and get the meal for free.
Making it an even bigger roadside attraction, the c-store is part of the once-iconic Stuckey’s chain of interstate travel stops. While the location is not branded Stuckey’s, the store offers many Stuckey’s-branded products, including snacks.
Tiger Truck Stop
The owners of the Tiger Truck Stop, Grosse Tete, La., have bred and kept tigers on the site for more than 20 years, and the animals have served as a major draw for the business. Sixteen-year-old Tony, a 550-pound Bengal tiger, is the only remaining cat.
Along with fuel, the location also features the Tiger Cafe and a country store.
Situated along the Missouri River in Oacoma, S.D., Al's Oasis is a high-profile stop for travelers along Interstate 90 on their way to the Black Hills, Badlands and Mount Rushmore.
The site includes a buffet-style restaurant, supermarket and several gift shops in one large building with separate entrances and exteriors designed to resemble an Old West town. It also has a hotel and campground.
The freestanding Clark Pump ‘N Pak gas station and convenience store also is part of the Al’s Oasis complex.
BP Helios House
In 2007, BP opened an architecturally unique gas station in Los Angeles dubbed “Helios House.”
The station has an earth-friendly design, using such materials as farmed wood and less-polluting paint, and encourages customers to save energy. The canopy is covered in shiny triangles of uncoated, recyclable stainless steel. The rooftop holds 90 solar panels and a collection system that gathers rainfall to irrigate drought-tolerant plants nearby. The underside is outfitted with low-energy lighting. Cars roll across concrete mixed with bits of recycled glass.
"The whole site is really a lab," Ann Hand, senior vice president of global marketing and innovation for BP, said at the time. "Everything we have on this site is about reuse. My hope is that people will see that they can do little things to move up to a greener lifestyle."
BP has since converted the location to its ARCO brand.
A new Fuel City c-store in in Haltom City, Texas, features a menagerie that is a trademark of the chain. Along with the buffaloes and other animals are Wide and Doublewide, two longhorn steers; Zorro the zebra; Princess the donkey; and Stormy, a zonkey (half-zebra, half-donkey). They can easily be seen, secure behind an 8-foot-tall fence, from cars going through the line for the car wash.
Twenty minutes from the Los Angeles airport, the swoop of a gas-station canopy transforms the expected into the surprising. It’s part of an architecturally stunning United Pacific gas station, convenience store and car wash that’s stylish and quirky, lavish yet streamlined, irresistibly aspirational while obviously too expensive to replicate.
Gardena, Calif.-based United Pacific, operates a c-store and wholesale fuel distribution network that offers motor-fuels products under the 76, Conoco, Shell and United Oil flags and convenience items through the We Got It! Food Mart, My Goods Market and Circle K brands. The company is a portfolio business of Fortress Investment Group LLC, New York, a diversified global investment management firm.
In 2011, a gas station in Columbia, S.C., rebranded itself to the “Obama” brand. The owner said he got the idea from a station in Detroit, since closed, that also branded itself after the 44th U.S. president.
He said he has no plans to rebrand the station now that Obama is out of office.
And there is no word on whether any other enterprising retailer plans to open a “Trump”-branded gas station. So far, the president has not fired off a tweet minimizing the fact that his predecessor inspired a gas station, while he has not.
Know of any other weird or unusual c-stores or gas stations that are still in operation? Let CSP know about them at [email protected].