At the end of last year when I stopped in at Big Bat’s at the corner of SD Highway 79 and US Highway 18, I heard that they were planning on closing down.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because the gas station across the street has offered to buy us out,” the clerk told me.
Wow, I thought. I guess that’s one way to beat the competition. Just pay them to stop competing. According to documents in the Fall River County Courthouse, Coffee Cup Fuel Stops paid $400,000 for the property the gas station sits on and the nearly acre-sized lot to the west.
On January 15 of this year the deal was done and Big Bat’s called it quits (at that location). The store sits empty now. The two towering Shell signs that advertised the current price of gas are blank.
When I stopped there to check things out almost two months after the station closed, cars and trucks kept pulling in. Maybe it was out of force of habit or maybe because they thought if there was no price on the sign the gas was free.
Coffee Cup moved into the area in November 2007 when it took over the old Maverick Junction gas station across the road from Big Bat’s on the east side of Highway 79 according to Troy Winger, director of operations for Coffee Cups Fuel Stops.
Winger lives in Steele, N.D. where one of the company’s eight travel plazas is located. The company, which has stores in Wyoming, S.D. and N.D., has its corporate offices in Aberdeen.
“The previous owner (of the Maverick Junction station) was looking to get out of business, so we bought it,” said Winger. “It started out slow, but it’s shown great growth in the last few years.”
Winger believes that the Coffee Cup name has helped bring in more business. “People recognize the name from some of our other locations,” said Winger. “Plus we put some money into the store and tried to have more competitive pricing.
The station also draws in drivers whose companies have charge accounts with Coffee Cup Fuel Stops.
“This is a frequently traveled route for truck drivers coming off I-90 taking a shortcut into Wyoming,” said Winger. He also expects there to be increased traffic when the Heartland Expressway eventually connects to I-80.
Winger would not talk about what Coffee Cup’s plans are for the old Big Bat’s location. For that he told me to talk with Tom Heinz, who now owns the two properties across from each other on Highway 79 as well as several other Coffee Cup locations. Heinz, who is one of the original Coffee Cup owners, lives in Dakota Dunes in the southeastern corner of South Dakota.
“We have no plans at this time,” said Heinz, who has been with Coffee Cup for three decades. “We’re looking two to three years in advance.”
Then why spend $400,000 to buy the property? “I look at traffic flows for future growth,” said Heinz. “I’m not going to tell you my secrets. But if the numbers look better across the road, we might move the Coffee Cup over there.”
For the business to be successful, Heinz needs car and truck traffic. “It takes both to make it work,” he said.
If they moved across the highway what would happen to Coffee Cup’s current location? “In a growth market there is room for opportunity,” said Heinz. “If the growth comes there’s room for a hotel or an eating facility.”
Heinz does not consider himself a land speculator. “A speculator buys land and hopes to sell it at a higher price. I’m in the travel plaza business. I make business decisions according to location.”
So for the time being, the old Shell station will stay as it is. No gas. Locked doors. Empty shelves. “We are just across the hi way. Open 24 hours,” says the 8½ by 11-inch poster on the door inviting people to Coffee Cup Fuel Stop #9.
“That’s got to be the most expensive sign in the state,” I said out loud. “It cost Coffee Cup about as much as a Super Bowl TV ad to put that up.”