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Indie Closeup: A Winter Gold Mine

Sales, customer throughput go into overdrive at Sidnaw Station once deer, snowmobile seasons start

At most convenience stores—particularly in vacation magnets such as Michigan’s Upper Peninsula—the summer season is the one that delivers the lion’s share of business.

But wait: Amber and Matthew Richardson, co-owners of Sidnaw Station, see it a little differently. The couple recognizes the wintertime as the season that bestows an avalanche of business for the retail location they assumed control of during summer 2022.

“We have a pretty steady flow of tourists and vacationers year-round, but winter is our peak season,” said Amber Richardson, a North Dakota native who has lived in Michigan for 35 years.

“First, deer hunting season starts in November, and then snowmobile season starts up on Dec. 1. January and February are basically a blur around here because we’re so busy.”

Sidnaw Station is located in Sidnaw, Mich., about 20 minutes from Lake Superior. While snowmobile racing on the big lake is popular, it’s the multitude of trail riders that flock to Sidnaw Station—a bar, restaurant and convenience store all rolled into one. The modest-sized store is not far from Iron River, Mich., situated on an arterial snowmobile trail that sits in the shadow of the store’s parking lot.

This makes a Sidnaw Station stop a slam-dunk stop for “sled” owners taking a short or long trek through the woods. “Snowmobilers fuel up with 91 octane: there’s pretty much a long, long line of sleds that sit in a queue and wait for gas, and come inside the store as they wait,” said Richardson.

C-Store ‘Newbies’

Amber and Matt Richardson assumed control of Sidnaw Station in June 2022, acquiring the store from Sue Tangen, who had owned the store for nine years. “I had been working at Sidnaw for about a year [in 2021] when Sue informed us that she was selling the store—apparently to ‘retire.’ She encouraged us to buy it because she wanted to keep it local,” said Richardson.

Amber Richardson had worked in customer service for years while Matt Richardson has been an entrepreneur for decades, currently owning a concrete and excavation business. “We talked about it and agreed that owning a restaurant/convenience store was doable,” she said.

As Tangen “retired,” she didn’t go far: the former owner agreed to stay on board as one of the five full- or part-time employees. “I basically have her ‘tethered’ to me because Sue’s a wealth of knowledge,” Richardson said.

Read ahead for a short, three-question conversation with Amber Richardson about a store that had once been a snowmobile dealership—but now serves snowmobilers in a drastically different manner.

Q: What are some of the trending items sold within your foodservice menu?

A: We’re known for our pizzas, homemade soups and chili. Pizza is made from scratch—and it made the local news for its quality. We had been selling 20 to 30 pizzas a day, but after the story appeared we doubled that count—and we found people came from far and wide for it.

Pizza sales went into overdrive when an online story dropped at Michigan’s in November. “Customers can build their own, get weird with crazy combinations like pickle and jalapeno or keep it traditional with pepperoni. No matter what pizza you pick, you’ll be grinning from ear to ear when you take your first bite,” according to the online story.

Q: What other in-store categories create a spark at the store?

A: We have a wide variety of clothing items and automotive accessories targeted to the many recreational and work vehicles—riding lawn mowers, snow blowers, snowmobiles and jet skis—even small aircraft. We sell a lot of motor oil, spark plugs, antifreeze and diesel exhaust fluid. Most all our fueling customers fuel up for recreational purposes and are not typical sedan or SUV drivers. We also sell a lot of meat snack and to-go beer and wine. Craft beer sales are solid, with Keweenaw Brewing [Houghton, Mich.] and Upper Hand Brewing [Escanaba, Mich.] both getting a prominent position in our store.

Q: You have a fair share of local competition around the store, but don’t seem to view any of them as “competitors”—why is that?

A: All of the other stores around here—be it bar, restaurant or convenience—all have this refreshing desire to help each other out, promote each other’s stores. We don’t look at it as one store ever encroaching upon our business. If an out-of-towner goes into the general store a few miles away that doesn’t sell a particular item, they recommend that person come to us—and we reciprocate. If that store is out of, say, milk, we’ll have someone on our staff bring them a couple gallons. Ultimately, everyone wins.

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