They came from as far away as Indiana and Washington (the state, not the DC). They came with friends and they came alone and made friends.
This was a pilgrimage to Athens in north Alabama. This was a pilgrimage to Buc-ee’s.
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The chain of gas stations that opened its newest location Monday morning has developed a cult following based on its square footage and unique merchandise. The fact that it was 25 degrees when the doors opened at 6 am didn’t matter. Perhaps more than 100 people had gathered in lines to be among the first of thousands of customers at the attraction at the Huntsville Brownsferry Road exit on I-65.
“I love Buc-ee’s,” said Tyler Williams, who traveled six hours from Carmel, Indiana, and arrived at 4:15 am to be at the opening. “I went to the one in Georgia and I got Buc-ee’s fever.”
The stories of those who were there were as amazing as their enthusiasm for an oversized gas station.
Allen Buchanan of Madison is fighting cancer – he described it as an aggressive form of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) that is now in remission. He’s awaiting a bone marrow transplant. A Navy veteran, he was also celebrating a birthday Monday. He was joined by his girlfriend, Giselle Delamora, who flew in Sunday from Seattle. She said her arrival was timed to be standing outside the doors at Buc-ee’s when they opened for the first time.
Blaise Ledbetter drove to Buc-ee’s on Monday from Nashville and she joined her friend, Derek May of Huntsville, as the first in line. They arrived about midnight. They were wrapped in holiday-themed Buc-ee’s blankets that employees handed out to the earliest arrivers.
“I’ve got nothing better to do,” May said with a smile. “It’s a good time.”
Indeed, the project is a good time economically. The Athens location is a $35 million investment for Buc-ee’s — which is just nine miles from the $2.3 billion Mazda Toyota Manufacturing plant in Huntsville. Revenue from Buc-ees is projected to be about $2.2 million per year for Athens and Limestone County.
For those standing in line Monday, such details didn’t really matter. Talitha Mays texted her friend Olivia Martindale with a joke, suggesting they go early to Buc-ee’s just to be there. Olivia missed the joke – she thought it was a great idea. They said they arrived about 1:30 am but couldn’t get into the parking lot yet. They finally made their way outside the doors about 4 am
“We didn’t have anything to do and we’re both night owls,” Talitha said. “It was a joke.”
“It was a fun idea,” Olivia said.
They both are from Athens and said they had never been to a Buc-ee’s before but were eager to experience the experience.
Standing in line with them were two strangers who became two friends. Ashley Larkin of Toney said she drove about 45 minutes and arrived about 4 a.m. Rachel Bolen of Huntsville made it about 5 a.m.
“Buc-ee’s is awesome,” Ashley said.
The employees understood this was a big deal. They cheered as customers first entered the store and even late arrivals got a chorus of “Welcome to Buc-ee’s” even as cashiers were working already-busy check-out lines.
Rachel understood all of this. She formerly lived in College Station, Texas – the state where Buc-ee’s started. She also has friends in Pennsylvania who wanted to be at the opening but given that its Thanksgiving week, they had to miss it.
“I’m going to take them to see it when I get here (for a visit),” she said.
Rachel also had a very specific shopping list.
“A Buc-ee’s dress,” she said.
Ashley said she wanted a new holiday sweatshirt. She was supposed to be at work at 8 am but her boss said she could be late if she brought her a sweatshirt, too.
It’s the third Alabama location, preceded by Buc-ee’s in Baldwin County on the Beach Express and in Leeds. Another location is planned for Auburn.
The Athens store is more than 53,000 square feet and has 120 fueling spots (unleaded at $3.06 per gallon at the opening). There are other amenities as well, such as dog walking areas with instructions on the sign that said, “If your dog decides to poopy … please bend down and scoopy.”
At 6 am sharp, a store manager emerged through the sliding glass doors.
“We appreciate y’all being here,” he said. “Y’all are awesome. Let’s go inside!”
And the crowd cheered and immediately the store was bustling.
Tyler Williams, the early arrival from Indiana, summed it up: “This is just awesome.”