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Massive Gas Station Chain 'Buc-ee's' Hopes To Compete With Iconic Johnson's Corner

JOHNSTOWN, Colo. (CBS4) – One of the smallest towns along the Interstate 25 corridor in Johnstown has announced its intentions to welcome the Buc-ee's gas station brand to northern Colorado in the coming years. Buc-ee's, a Texas-based mega gas station company, confirmed to CBS4 their plans to build a massive gas station and convenience store along I-25 in the next two years.

big gas station buc-ees
(credit: CBS)

Buc-ee's, which currently holds the record in Texas for the largest gas station in the world, plans to spread its reach to multiple other states. Buc-ee's General Counsel Jeff Nadalo told CBS4's Dillon Thomas his company targeted Johnstown as a way to cater to commuters moving between Denver, Fort Collins and the Wyoming border.

In the last 10 years, Johnstown has emerged as a major hub for retail and shopping in northern Colorado. Downtown Johnstown is a small strip of stores wrapped around a two-lane road. There is only one stoplight in Downtown Johnstown.

The rest of the downtown district is directly surrounded by longtime homes, farms, and small agriculture-based businesses, a stark difference from the outskirts of town.

"We are an ag community, and we were founded because of agriculture," Mayor Gary Lebsack told CBS4.

Lebsack has lived his entire life in Johnstown and admits it has changed a lot since he was a child. While the town was predominantly farmworkers and other agriculture-based employees, now the town is attracting people from many backgrounds.

Years ago the town council annexed land along I-25 and US-34. The land butts up against major cities and towns like Windsor, Greeley, Loveland, and more. However, downtown Johnstown is still more than a 10-minute drive from all of those annexed lands which have since been developed.

"We are really enjoying what is happening in Johnstown," Lebsack said. "Location is everything. And being located along I-25 offers a lot to Johnstown."

Lebsack said some longtime residents in the community have expressed a lack of interest in expanding the town of roughly 15,000 residents.

"People say, 'We don't want the growth, but we want the amenities.' But, the growth is what is bringing the amenities to Johnstown," Lebsack said.

By approving building permits for major retailers like Scheels, At Home, Hobby Lobby, Burlington Coat Factory, and more on the borders of Johnstown, the community has been able to bring in much-needed tax dollars without compromising the vibe of the small town at its core.

"We have big box on the outside and small town on the inside," Lebsack said. "We have the best of both worlds."

Scheels is the largest retail company to move into Johnstown in recent years. The two-story store sells everything from sporting goods to firearms, art, home décor, food, makeup, and much more. The middle of the store features a full-sized Ferris wheel, a mini-bowling alley, a large aquarium, and more.

Companies like Scheels have brought in so much in taxes that Johnstown is retrofitting and bolstering their downtown district without concern for funding.

Recently Johnstown opened its own YMCA recreation center which cost nearly $32 million.

"That was bought and paid for in cash," Lebsack said.

Lebsack said the town wouldn't have been able to afford the bill for the rec center without the money they made from the major box stores built on the edges of town.

Johnson's Corner
Johnson's Corner (credit: CBS)

Those who have never been to the core of Johnstown typically associate the town with Johnson's Corner, a Colorado icon known most for its renowned cinnamon rolls. It has long been the staple of convenience, dining and gas services along I-25 in the immediate region.

Some expressed concerns that the emergence of Buc-ee's to the vicinity would threaten the success of Johnson's Corner, some expressing they would rather Buc-ee's not come to town if it meant it would jeopardize Johnson's Corner.

Nadalo said his company has also received enthusiasm around their announcement.

"From the very beginning we look for places that are going to be receptive and excited about what we are doing," Nadalo said.

The two companies, while being direct competitors, would not be direct neighbors. Buc-ee's has purchased land on the southwest corner of I-25 and 48. That is an additional exit south of Johnson's Corner.

Johnstown has approved the sale of the land. However, there are still some details that still need to be ironed out before Buc-ee's can begin construction. The company hopes to be up and operating within 15 months of being approved.

Nadalo admitted he was aware of the region's love for Johnson's Corner, and hoped that their future store would help both companies thrive in the region.

Johnson's Corner
Johnson's Corner (credit: CBS)

"We are building our new store in Johnstown, Colorado," Nadalo said. "We want to compete with them. Hopefully it will bring everybody's game up."

Nadalo boasted of Buc-ee's reputation of having the cleanest bathrooms along any interstate in the country. He said the company intends to hire employees at no less than $15/hr, while also offering three weeks of PTO and a 401k matching system.

Mayor Lebsack said he believes both gas stops can coexist, while also sending a signal to other companies looking to expand.

"(Buc-ee's) will drive other businesses. It all works together," Lebsack said. "We welcome new business, but we also stand up for our older businesses that have been established here for a long time. At no time do we ever want to do anything that would be a detriment to our businesses. Then again, growth brings things that only the market can dictate how it goes."

More than 100,000 vehicles pass by Johnstown properties along I-25 every single day. Lebsack said he was optimistic both companies would continue to thrive for many years. He hoped the success of all of the large companies, and those smaller ones, would attract even more future employers

"(I hope they say) 'Johnstown, they are open for businesses. Gosh, maybe our business will thrive there,'" Lebsack said. "We like to think of Johnstown as the biggest small town along the Front Range."

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