Saturday, November 26, 2011

Lynchburg: Sheetz, The Mid-Atlantic's Walmart Of Gas Stations

The idea of a super-size gas station/convenience store is hardly anything new, but I gotta admit: Sheetz, which operates 406 stores across six states, is one dramatic drive-by. Four are within the Lynchburg city limits and another—pictured above—in nearby Forest in Bedford County, where my bro lives. Notice in the photo above that even God is shining down on Sheetz.

Many of these behemoths boast as much as 4,200 square feet, deeming them the Walmart of gas stations. As I drove by the Forest location Friday, the steering wheel veered uncontrollably, as the call to Sheetz became irresistible.

Inside... not so overwhelming. Take your average 7/11 and the front section of CVS and you've pretty much got it down. It's actually the gargantuan architecturally imposing gas tank overhangs resembling airport hangars that give these joints their drama.

Why would a burgeoning business have such as asinine name, you wonder? There's only one right answer: It's a family business, opened by Bob Sheetz in 1952 when he bought one of his pop's five dairy stores in Altoona, Pa., followed by Sheetz Kwik Shopper in 1963. Bob & brother Steve kept opening convenience marts, added gas in 1973 and by 1995, had expanded to an empire, with locations today in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, W.V. , Ohio and N.C.

Checking out the prices at Sheetz, it's no wonder they've expanded with such expediency. While gas is cheap—$2.99 a gallon as opposed to the city's typical $3.19—the goods inside bear a handsome price for "convenience" (as I whizzed by a second location seen to the left on Route 221 in Lynchburg)...

Aside from coffee, no doubt the most popular product here in the south is a pack of smokes. At $4.35 for Marlboros, any New Yorker would think he'd found anti-NYC Mayor Nanny Bloomberg nirvana... But that's about the same price you'd pay anywhere in this tobacco state. No bargains for the average working man here... just a lot of red on the veneer and all the more green for the Sheetz family.