NEW BRAUNFELS — At 11 a.m. sharp Monday, workers pulled aside the driveway barricades and 100 or more waiting cars flooded into New Braunfels’ new Buc-ee’s, the popular chain’s largest store.
Kent Taylor was among the first drivers to pull up to one of the 60 gas pumps at the $7.4 million Buc-ee’s Travel Center at I-35 and Farm-to-Market Road 306.
“I’m from Round Rock and it’s like 65 miles down here, but I had to come check it out,” Taylor said.
The New Braunfels’ edition of Buc-ee’s, a chain hailed as the greatest gas stations on Earth, spreads across 18 acres and boasts a 67,000-square-foot stucco-and-stone store. That’s three-quarters the size of the big new 88,000-square-foot HEB store on Loop 337.
Buc-ee’s maintenance worker Myron Barnes said customers had been trying to get into the store throughout the weekend as opening-day preparations were made.
“People kept driving up and trying to go in. We had to tell keep telling ’em to come back on Monday,” he said. “It didn’t surprise me at all that we had long lines at the entrances this morning.”
Inside, Jerry Koch of New Braunfels was checking out the giant convenience store-plus, with its famously clean and hands-free restrooms; its smorgasbord of road-trip munchies, which include New Braunfels Smokehouse-produced jerky as well as made-to-order sandwiches, tacos, barbecue, fudge and fountain drinks; racks fulls of Texas-themed gifts and clothing; and outdoor gear.
“I’m just a Buc-ee’s fan. I had to stop in.” Koch said. “It’s closer than (Buc-ee’s in) Luling — and I had to get me some fudge.”
William Graves of San Antonio came to the store with his wife, Augustine, who had disappeared, shopping somewhere in the huge store.
“She loves Buc-ee’s,” said Graves, who obviously is a fan, too. He had his hands full with a bottle of Buc-ee’s jalepeno tartar sauce and a freshly made hoagie sandwich.
“We’ve been waiting for the grand opening,” Graves said. “We thought it was going to be Wednesday, but when we found out it was going to be today, we ran on up.”
Work started on the big Buc-ee’s last summer, with a targeted opening date of Memorial Day 2012.
General manager Dan Parkinson said he was glad to have the doors open and customers arriving.
Buc-ee’s expects 5,500 cars per day to stop at the new store.
“This is just another step in Buc-ee’s quest to take over the world one clean restroom at a time,” Parkinson joked.
Buc-ee’s hired about 250 people to staff the store 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Parkinson said. Workers are paid as much as $12.25 per hour.
The GM said the chain has high hopes for the success of the New Braunfels location, which will draw customers from an estimated 86,000 vehicles per day passing along I-35.
“This is a growing community,” he said. “There’s lots of opportunity here. It’s full of great people that we’ve been able to staff the store with.”
City and county officials are banking on Buc-ee’s bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales tax revenues. Comal County officials have said they’ll use their expected share — $800,000 over 10 years — to reduce property taxes paid by residents.
While most of Buc-ee’s business will come from travelers who live outside the area, plenty of the store’s customers are expected to drive into the heart of New Braunfels to see what the city has to offer before they get back on the road, Meek said.
Parkinson said the store is stocked and ready to serve those who are heading to the area’s rivers for water sports activities.
“We’ve got tubes. We’ve got non-disposable, reusable containers. We’ve got Buc-ee’s T-shirts geared toward the Comal River.”
Buc-ee's phone number: (979) 238-6390