Commuters drive convenience store business

Lynn BurtonPost Independent Staff

It’s 8 a.m. on a gray, snowy morning, and an upvalley-bound commuter charges out of the Carbondale 7-Eleven with a cup of hot coffee in her right hand, tugging car keys from her coat pocket with the other.Inside, five construction workers cluster at the coffee pots, discussing the day’s schedule in Spanish.Norma Morris has a bus to Aspen to catch, but cheerfully says, “Good morning, I haven’t seen you for a while,” to a 7-Eleven clerk. Morris gathers an armload of local newspapers and rushes to fill her plastic cup with a half-and-half blend of coffee and hot chocolate.Warren Colby has a downvalley bus to catch, and has stopped in for his own blend of steaming coffee and hot chocolate. “I come in here four or five times a week,” Colby says as he waits in line to pay.A pair of clerks are busy ringing up sales while another clerk, nicknamed “Oz,” stocks shelves. Store manager Mitch Helle discusses a delivery with a truck driver.If it seems like the Carbondale 7-Eleven is a really busy store, that’s because it is.”It beats our other stores in just about every category,” said district manager Val Johnsen, who oversees 10 stores from Idaho Springs to Steamboat Springs, including several on the Interstate 70 corridor.”The Carbondale store also sells the most nachos. It’s a big-time nacho town,” Johnsen said.On a typical winter day, 1,200 to 1,500 customers will buy gas, snacks and even $99 cell phones at the Carbondale 7-Eleven. “That spikes to 2,500 a day in the summer,” said 7-Eleven company spokesperson Margaret Chabris.Carbondale isn’t the valley’s only hotbed of convenience store activity. The telephone books lists 27 convenience stores from Aspen to Parachute. The Iowa-based Kum & Go chain operates the most stores, with eight.Just over half the stores are owned by large chains; the rest are independently owned. That figure corresponds with convenience store industry figures nationwide.”There’s a real opportunity for independents,” said John Lofstock, editor of Convenience Store News. “The strategy is to build stores where people can gather.”Maria Maniscalchi is one of those independent store owners. She bought the old Hue Mart, located on Highway 82 at the Colorado Mountain College turnoff, in 1996, after owning Mama Maria’s Pizza in Snowmass Village and Aspen for seven years. Her first orders of business were to change the name to Thunder River Market, install new gas pumps, expand the product line, open a deli and sell fresh pizza.”My pizza is from a family recipe,” Maniscalchi said. “We also sell breakfast wraps and salads. We serve great food.”Maniscalchi had retail experience before she opened Thunder River Market. “My dad owned a party store in Detroit,” Maniscalchi said. “He sold beer, wine, chips, things like that. If I wanted to see my dad, I worked at the store.”Thunder River Market covers about 3,000 square feet, and it’s larger than most convenience stores. In the summer, it’s an easy stop for rafting companies. This time of year, many who drop into the store are construction workers. “The ones I used to feed for lunch at Snowmass, I see at 5:30 a.m. here,” Maniscalchi said.Beside her food, Maniscalchi credits her employees and the store’s cleanliness for her success. “I really do have the best employees. We work well as a team. And we keep a clean ship. Appearance is everything,” she said.The best part about owning Thunder River Market is her customers. “I love the people, and our customers are like family. It’s the people that make it,” she said.7-Eleven is the world’s largest convenience store company, with more than 24,000 stores world-wide. It operates four stores in the Glenwood Springs area.Kum & Go is the 50th largest convenience store company, with 349 stores in 14 states. All of Kum & Go’s 17 stores in Colorado are on the Western Slope, and eight of those stores are located from Parachute to Glenwood Springs.Kum & Go recently bought the rights to operate 36 Cenex convenience stores in South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, Iowa and Wyoming. Company representatives were not available for comment, but at Convenience Store News, Lofstock sees an industry trend for larger companies to buy out smaller ones.”They are looking for stores with good locations, and more stores can help with their economy of scale,” Lofstock said.At Thunder River Market, Maniscalchi doesn’t seem concerned with possible competition from other convenience stores. “Competition doesn’t scare me. I’m not going anywhere,” she said.Contact Lynn Burton: 945-8515, ext.

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