By Shannon Clinton
There are few places these days where children and adults of all ages can walk through a doorway for the first time and have the same reaction to what’s inside – open-mouthed, wide-eyed sheer amazement.
Buc-ee’s is one of those places, and if you know, you know.
If you haven’t been, and you really should, try to envision it as part theme park (complete with furry mascot Bucky the Beaver and logo merch!), part food court, part mega-sized convenience store, part clothing store, and gift shop, and even that description doesn’t do it justice.
And notice we only now mention its famous “world’s cleanest bathrooms” and the sprawling, 120-bay fuel station, lest anyone think it’s just an oversized gas station. It’s so much more!
With locations in Texas, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and others planned for Tennessee and elsewhere, the Texas-based chain was founded in 1982 and chose to locate its first Kentucky Buc-ee’s travel center here in Richmond at Exit 83 off I-75. A grand opening was held in April.
Inside the 53,000-square-foot marvel, there’s clothing, toys, home décor, hot sauces, a drink station, an entire section of jerky products and another of gummy candies, nearly any snack you could imagine, jellies and condiments, freshly prepared brisket and other meaty sandwiches, tacos, burritos and grab-and-go fruit, desserts, salads, and sides.
Buc-ee’s even has its own branded snacks including trail mixes and “Beaver Nuggets,” which are crunchy corn puffs covered in a variety of flavorings, including caramel and sweet cinnamon.
With a loyal cult following, travelers go out of their way to follow the cheery Buc-ee’s beaver mascot on billboards along the interstate until a towering logo sign finally comes into view near its exit. Others, both locals and those from cities and counties across Kentucky, make a point to stop by when they’re in the area or taking an afternoon drive.
Richmond Mayor Robert Blythe, who says it’s the fudge selection that has him forever in its grip, readily admits to visiting Buc-ee’s nearly every day and while there, getting to know employees and management.
Now when he walks in the door after even a day or two absence he said employees shout, “We missed you!” And he’s met other die-hard Buc-ee’s fans who’ve recognized him from news coverage surrounding its debut.
Mayor Blythe said after the past couple of years watching the evolution of conversations, planning, and finally, construction, he’s thrilled that the travel center is now open, and is continually impressed with the variety of vehicle license plates he sees when cruising the parking lot.
He’d never been to a Buc-ee’s before visiting the one here and was in complete awe.
“The day we did the ribbon-cutting, I said in my remarks just before I presented the owner, ‘The only thing I know that really applies here is the word WOW!!’” he said.
In addition to creating hundreds of jobs, Buc-ee’s is having a ripple effect on other local businesses, as after their Buc-ee’s experience, some stay in town to have sit-down meals in local restaurants, go shopping or make plans to visit Richmond again soon when they have more time.
Mayor Blythe said he was hoping that would be the case and now hints at other entities eyeing nearby properties wanting to capitalize on the bustling Buc-ee’s traffic base.
“I’m excited not only that Buc-ee’s has come, but also what that means for that Exit 83 and its potential growth now, and what that also will mean for the existing businesses already in our community,” he said.
For now, he’s just happy to be Richmond’s unofficial Buc-cee’s fan club president and invites you to come be wowed, too!
“There’s something in the air when you go in there and you become addicted, and you come back and you don’t know why, but you enjoy it every time you go,” he said, laughing.