In a line of two dozen cars spilling into the roadway, Barbara Tyree waits her turn at the gas pumps.
It’s the grand opening of Sheetz at N.C. 42 West and Amelia Church Road, and Tyree, a Clayton resident, doesn’t mind the half-hour wait.
“Sheetz is cheaper on their gas than anyone else,” Tyree said at the April 10 opening. “And their food is actually really good.”
The new convenience store is one of 12 the company plans to open this year in North Carolina. That’s more than in any other state, said Stan Sheetz, chairman of the Sheetz board of directors.
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“We get a lot of feedback here about our employees and how nice and friendly they are,” Sheetz said during an interview at the grand opening. “I also get a lot of comments about our restaurants, because they are clean and open 24/7.”
Since opening its first North Carolina store in 2004, Sheetz has averaged six new locations a year across the state. It now operates 66 stores in 44 cities and towns, including three in Johnston County.
Based in Altoona, Pa., the company markets itself as “more than just a convenience store.” It sells made-to-order sandwiches, salads, pizza and coffee, in addition to gasoline.
Clayton resident Chris Mathews said the store provides another choice for locals. “I’ve used their stores all the way up to Ohio,” he said while pumping gas. “It’s great we finally have one.”
The company always builds new, with each store costing $3 million to $4 million in land and building, Stan Sheetz said. Each store employs 35-40 people at a starting hourly wage of $8.75, plus benefits for salespeople.
“Sometimes we need more (employees) than that, which is a great problem to have,” Sheetz said.
Sheetz operates about 470 stores in the United States, and annual revenue is more than $6.6 billion, according to the company’s website. Some of that money goes to charities, including more than $200,000 each year to Special Olympics, Sheetz said.
At the grand opening in Clayton, the company donated $2,500 to Special Olympics North Carolina.
Jamie Gerhart, a Sheetz site selector based in the Triangle, said the store’s retail offerings and charitable giving match well with North Carolinians.
“It’s unlike typical convenience stores or fast food restaurants, and it’s this hybrid the Triangle is responding well to,” Gerhart said.
But while loyal customers tout Sheetz’s varied offerings, the company’s rapid growth has sometimes met with opposition from residential neighbors.
Earlier this month, several Clayton residents were the latest to challenge the company’s ambitions, petitioning against a future store at U.S. 70 Business and Rose Street. Clayton town planners say the area, just across from N.C. 42 East, is destined for future commercial development. However, residential neighbors like Jennifer Mercer say the timing isn’t right.
“It is a well-established neighborhood with residents who have been there for decades,” Mercer said during a recent public hearing. Opponents also say a store there could lower property values and increase traffic.
The Clayton Town Council rezoned the land for the store, but Sheetz must still obtain a special-use permit. At an upcoming community meeting, neighbors will have the opportunity to suggest conditions Sheetz must meet to open on Rose Street.
Gerhart said organized opposition is not a regular occurrence.
“What’s important to note is that every site is different,” he said. “There are a handful of sites we haven’t gotten rezoned, but every site is its own case, and every site has different property owners.”
Gerhart said Sheetz has plans for at least one more Johnston County store, near N.C. 42 and Cornwallis Road in the Cleveland community. “We don’t own (the property) yet, but the developer is doing significant work out there so we would go to closing,” he said.