TEXAS CITY — Loni Laranang couldn’t wait any longer. So, two hours before the doors to Buc-ee’s newest travel center opened she was in the parking lot.
“I am so excited,” Laranang, who lives in Texas City, said. “I just love Buc-ee’s so much. It is amazing. I hope it is a really big store, which it looks like it is ... so T-shirts.”
She was so excited that she gave the statue of the company’s mascot Buc-ee Beaver a kiss on the cheek as she waited for the doors to open at 6 a.m.
Hazel Surratt was positioned at one of the gas pumps about 20 minutes before the official opening. Sporting a tie-dyed Buc-ee’s logo T-shirt, she counted down the minutes until the pumps would be operational.
The fact that gasoline was on sale for $3.03 a gallon was a bonus.
But why so early?
“I got up at 4 a.m. and nothing was really on TV, so I figured I would come here and support Buc-ee’s,” she said.
Becky Gibson of Santa Fe stopped to check out the item Buc-ee’s is probably most famous for — the super-clean bathrooms.
“I just had to look,” Gibson said. “I didn’t have to use the bathroom, but I wanted to see for myself how clean they are.
“They are really, really clean.”
Jerry Stephens of Santa Fe came for breakfast.
“I got some kolaches,” he said. “I’ll be back for a chili dog at lunch. (Buc-ee’s) chili dogs have no equal.”
Many of the first customers early Wednesday morning were on their way to work at Marathon’s Galveston Bay and Texas Refining Division refineries in Texas City.
Erik Montemayor of Santa Fe picked up some coffee but also spent about $82 on other items, including some hats and shirts.
Brandon Clingerman of Santa Fe was admiring some of the fishing rods for sale. An entire side of the store is dedicated to bait, fishing gear, beachwear, beach toys and other accessories. There are even crab traps for sale.
Clingerman, an avid fisherman, said he makes and sells his own rods, Bcrazie Custom Rods, and is friends with many of the owners of rod and tackle companies. Some of their gear was for sale in the store, Clingerman said.
“Their prices are awesome,” Clingerman said.
Betty Mason of Dickinson was waiting in line to buy fudge Wednesday afternoon.
“My number one pick in Buc-ee’s is the fudge,” Mason said.
Carolyn Bennett of Bayou Vista was using a shopping cart to give her 3-year-old grandson, Avin, a tour of the store.
She’s had friends visit from New Zealand in the past, and one of the stops was a Buc-ee’s near San Antonio.
“They just thought it was fantastic,” she said. “They loved all the Texas stuff.”
Now with a Buc-ee’s in area she’ll be bringing her friends here, she said.
Buc-ee’s Texas City’s General Manager Shawn Humpert said he wasn’t keeping a count of the number of people who visited on the first day.
“It’s been a very good day,” he said.
Buddy Fredrickson and his wife, Linda, drove up from Bayou Vista. They stopped to take a photo with the beaver statue.
“We just wanted to see the opening,” Linda said after calling family and friends to tell them about the experience.
The couple stopped inside for a photo with Arch “Beaver” Aplin, the co-founder of the store.
As Aplin walked into the store, several people thanked him for opening the store in Texas City.
“I am so humbled when I get that reaction,” Aplin said. “To know that people appreciate what we stand for and what we do is so very special.”
With Buc-ee’s opening comes 200-plus new jobs, many with higher hourly pay and benefits. Texas City Mayor Matt Doyle — who was also among the first in the store — greeted that fact with a smile.
The mayor negotiated most of the deal to lure Buc-ee’s to Texas City over burgers and beers at the Beyond Burger restaurant in the city.
“Really, the whole deal was done in that one meeting,” Doyle said. “Hopefully between Tanger (Outlets) and Buc-ee’s this will make this one of the biggest destination points in Texas.”
The store and Tanger Outlets are within the Lago Mar master-planned community. When that 3,500-acre project was announced several years ago, it was thought houses would come first, followed by commercial and retail development.
“We couldn’t be luckier about that,” Doyle said. “It is really better off for (the city) to get the commercial piece first and the housing second. The houses are on their way.”
Crews are preparing for the first phase of residential development and about 200 single-family lots to the south of Tanger Outlets are expected to come online by next year.
An area physician has bought land in the development with plans to build a 25-acre Playland Park, which will offer amusements and attractions, while there are also talks of a movie theater and hotel to be built nearby.
Contact reporter Christopher Smith Gonzalez at 409-683-5314 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Mainland Editor T.J. Aulds at 409-683-5334 or email@example.com.