A journey through Buc-ee’s turbulent youth

A quick aside before we begin today’s post. There was an excellent online review I read a while back that somewhat inspired me to write this post. It taxonomized Buc-ee’s locations by size, giving two examples “Baby Beaver” to describe the original stores in Lake Jackson, and Adolescent stores to describe ones like the store off 290 on Muschkee Road. For this post I propose adding a few more classifications to the taxonomy. A “Papa Beaver” store as the original “small” Travel Centers eg: Luling, and the “Grandaddy Beaver” stores, the Mega Travel Centers like New Braunfels.

What’s your earliest memory of Buc-ee’s? If you’re from the Houston area it’s probably encountering the “baby beaver” stores around Alvin, Lake Jackson, or anywhere in that area. Even if you’re not one to venture towards the Gulf, their first Papa Beaver location in Luling was up and running by 2003 and anyone traveling from Houston to San Antonio will be intimately familiar with not only their much-needed restrooms along I-10, but their attempt at Stuckey-esque advertising (early on the billboards were very informational, not extremely humorous but very consistent all including countdown mileage markers) helped to cement them in the minds of even those who didn’t stop in Luling. Within only about 35 years, Buc-ee’s has gone from an independent convince store selling multiple brands of gas, to a multistate travel center, with international notoriety. While Buc-ee’s early history as a normal C-Store is somewhat well known in retail circles, what hasn’t been covered is how they transitioned from this to Granddaddy Beaver (Mega Travel Center) stores isn’t as clear-cut as it might seem.

One of the first ventures out of the general area made by Buc-ee’s was the purchase of a small Exxon station on 1273 TX-71 in Bastrop, this lasted only lasted a few years, and likely wasn’t too different from other small Buc-ees locations during this time period. They were smaller stores, that mostly sold Exxon branded gasoline, and didn’t have much distinguishing them outside of their name, which was usually less prominent than the gas marquee. During the early 2000s Buc-ee’s began to branch with their store types, building their first “Papa Beaver” stores. These are locations that we would still consider to be Travel Centers, but are tiny by modern Buc-ee’s standards. It seems that during this time, however, Buc-ee’s investigated at least a few different paths. Some options investigated never came to fruition, such as a Buc-ee’s planned to open in at 6402 Louetta in Spring. While contracts were signed on the development of this store, I was unable to find any information on it, meaning it never got very far. Although the fact that the lot is only about 1.5 acres means this would have been a rather small Buc-ees. The property was sold by 2005 to develop a strip center. Another failed project was to be a Travel Center to be located at 525 S 1st St, Beasley, TX in Fort Bend County just outside of Rosenberg, this would have conceivably looked similar to the Luling location. Buc-ee’s took multiple years to buy separate lots from different owners, managing to put together 9 acres. After years of stalled development, the property was sold in 2015 to Pilot Travel Centers, who had begun construction a year earlier on a new Travel Center while leasing the property. One more failed store worth mentioning was to be at 5230 Avenue I, Rosenberg, TX 77469. On a 5.5 Acre lot, this Buc-ee’s came very close to being built, with site drawings, draining plans, and a Sales Tax Permit all being filed in 2004. The store was eventually abandoned after Stripes began construction of a new store directly across the street.

Obviously, a small company branching off in so many different directions is not a wise idea, and Buc-ee’s had the good sense to either cancel or shutdown projects that were hurting the core idea. By the mid 2000s, Buc-ees had settled with highway adjacent “Papa Beaver” stores as their bread and butter. While they had no intentions of getting rid of smaller “Adolescent Beaver” size stores, no one could know just how huge Buc-ees could end up. As Buc-ee’s continued to grow they closed some of the older stores, like 302 This Way which has a unique link to the history of the chain including its current use as a car wash, but that’s a store for another day. By 2015 Buc-ee’s for the first time sold one of their stores to a competitor, 101 E Brazos Ave, West Columbia, TX. It seems that Buc-ee’s liked the idea enough to dump one other store with Stripes in 2018 2403 N Mechanic St El Campo, TX 77437, which we’re taking a look at today.

Former Bucee’s in El Campo sold to Stripes in 2018

To provide a bit of comparison I stopped at a similar Buc-ee’s in El Campo, while this location was a little smaller, and a bit older it did provide a pretty apt set of comparison photos. The only major differences between the locations can be traced to overall square footage, and how many products you can cram in as a result.

Buc-ee’s in Eagle Lake, Still open similar to El Campo

 

What do you think?