By Josh Benjamin and Morgan Holt
Site work on the highly anticipated Sheetz gas station and convenience store is expected to begin in December, said Lexington Planning Director Michael Zehner. Zehner hopes that the actual building will go up in January in time for the store to open at the beginning of May.
Sheetz is leasing 3.14 acres of land on East Nelson Street and U.S. Route 11 Bypass, from Nelson Street Realty, LLC, an affiliate of Morgan Property Group. Morgan Property Group purchased the land for $2.125 million from Marcus & Millichap, the nation’s largest commercial real estate brokerage firm, headquartered out of Calabasas, Calif. The site at the traffic light of Walker and Nelson streets was formerly occupied by Pizza Hut, which has been relocated to 600 East Nelson St., east of the bypass.
“We could not be more excited for Sheetz and the people of Lexington,” said Trey Morgan, president of Morgan Property Group, in a press release from early October. “This is a great retailer coming to a great town. We’re happy to be a part of it.”
Last February, the Lexington Planning Commission approved 3-2 a plan to address traffic concerns involved in the construction of the new Sheetz. The plan will include updated traffic signals and an additional turning lane at the corner of Walker and Nelson, which will be paid for by Sheetz.
Jon Ellestad, city manager of Lexington, said that besides the Planning Commission’s ruling, the city does not yet have a definite plan for addressing the increase in traffic that Sheetz is expected to bring to the area. The location is on an already busy commercial stretch and adjacent to the on- and off-ramps for the Route 11 Bypass.
In addition, Sheetz gas stations often appeal to semi-trailer trucks because of the stations’ accommodating size, lower gas prices and convenience stores. Ellestad is unsure the area can support this kind of traffic because the site is smaller than an average Sheetz site, although he doesn’t think East Nelson Street will become gridlocked.
“We’re taking a ‘wait and see’ attitude in terms of what it’s going to do,” he said. “But it won’t help a situation that’s already not good.”
The new Sheetz may also affect other businesses in the area, said Ellestad. Traffic backups are a primary concern for nearby stores such as CVS, Frank’s, and Wendy’s, whose parking lots enter and exit East Nelson Street without a direct traffic light. Ellestad hopes the Planning Commission’s approved changes will help maximize the flow of traffic.
While Zehner predicts that construction will be confined to the site, he said there could also be some additional traffic delays once site work begins.
“As long as they’re coordinating with the police department on stuff like when big trucks need to come in, we shouldn’t have any big issues,” he said.
Another concern is an increase in competition for businesses in the area. Sheetz is a family-owned company that offers a combination of a gas station, convenience store and fast food restaurant. Based out of Altoona, Pa., the company has become one of America’s fastest growing restaurant chains with more than $5 billion in annual revenues and 15,000 employees.
According to Morgan Property Group’s press release, the company operates more than 400 stations throughout Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, Ohio and West Virginia and, with this new location, it will expand its footprint along the highway corridors of Virginia. Sheetz stores are known for their competitive gas prices.
While Ellestad is not convinced that gas prices will drop in the area after Sheetz’ arrival, he is worried about Midland Trail Pit Stop, the gas station across the Route 11 Bypass, east of the Sheetz.
Bonnie Cooper, manager of Pit Stop, said her gas station will lower costs to compete with Sheetz.
“We will pretty much stay within a couple of cents,” she said.
Cooper said that she thinks, at first, everyone will be attracted to the Sheetz because of its novelty. But she remains confident that her customers will be loyal to a store they are familiar with.
“You’re always a little nervous because it’s competition and that’s a big name brand store,” she said. “But we deal with a lot of locals. Sheetz deals more with interstate traffic. I think we have enough loyal customers that we’ll be all right.”
Sheetz will also have a competitive advantage in terms of operating hours. All Sheetz stores are open 24 hours a day, whereas Pit Stop opens at 4:30 a.m. and closes at 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. On Fridays and Saturdays, the store closes at midnight.
Like Ellestad, Cooper is worried about the increase in traffic that the Sheetz will bring.
“They’re gonna have to do something, ‘cause this area’s already a mess,” she said. “I keep thinking, ‘How I’m gonna get to my bank from here?’”