What’s the deal with Buc-ee’s gas station in Florence, SC?

Gov. Henry McMaster attended the ground breaking for South Carolina’s first-ever Buc-ee’s gas station. One of the company’s representatives said he hopes the travel center will open in Florence by next Christmas.

Gov. Henry McMaster attended the ground breaking for South Carolina’s first-ever Buc-ee’s gas station. One of the company’s representatives said he hopes the travel center will open in Florence by next Christmas.

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It’s just a gas station, right?

Considering the way Texans talk about Buc-ee’s, it’s easy to wonder if it’s something more.

In many ways, it is. Buc-ee’s sells gas, yes, but it also sells beaver-themed merchandise, clothing, fudge, 20 flavors of beef jerky, barbecue, tacos, hunting supplies, beach necessities — we would fill an entire newspaper to list them all.

In advance of South Carolina getting its first one next month, a reporter visited a Buc-ee’s location in Texas, the gas station’s homeland, seeking to understand where the obsession comes from and did some digging online to learn all about this beaver. Here’s what we found.

Despite it being a Tuesday morning, not exactly a day “known for travel,” Buc-ee’s was packed. There were dozens of people wandering around inside and dozens more working there. As a gas station with thousands upon thousands of square feet and more than 100 gas pumps, it takes a lot of people to keep the place running.

Some people were getting gas, yes. Others were there to grab breakfast, picking from half a dozen breakfast taco choices, sandwiches or the choice of champions — a singular cup of coffee, black.

For those who don’t need food, there is so much else to buy. Half of each Buc-ee’s is devoted entirely to things that are not food — a giant merchandise section featuring seemingly every item you might have forgotten for your road trip plus, of course, Buc-ee’s-themed clothing, bumper stickers, cups and more.

Want a t-shirt that says “my overbite is sexy” with a beaver on it? Buc-ee’s has it.

The gas station’s staff are also notoriously friendly — and notoriously well-paid, with starting salaries now reaching $18-$22 an hour.

“It’s a very cultural part of Buc-ee’s,” Buc-ee’s food and beverage director Kraig Junck told Eater of the staff’s kindness in 2017. “We’re very selective in our hiring process and there’s an expectation of friendliness. The training is high, the expectations are high, and the employees we have on board respond to the environment that we’ve created. They actually like working here.”

‘Unabashed fans who love the place’

Stories abound of people stopping exclusively at Buc-ee’s just to visit their infamously clean restrooms — spotless restrooms with real doors, not those flimsy plastic things you find, well, most anywhere else. Buc-ee’s even won an award in 2012 from Cintas, a supplier of cleaning materials, for having the cleanest restroom’s in America.

“Not only do they have a great atmosphere, the restroom facilities are amazing…they are spacious, uber clean and there are plenty for everyone… I have even changed clothes there without worrying about yuckiness,” Kelly R., a Houston resident who submitted Buc-ee’s for consideration that year, said in a statement shared by Cintas when the award was announced.

Traveling is already an irritating process; why not make it a little less terrible with a nice rest stop?

“If you bypass gas stations because you’re waiting to stop at Buc-ee’s instead, you’re definitely from Texas,” the Twitter account @TexasHumor posted in 2017.

In 2019, KPRC in Houston reported that a group of teens posed for their prom photos in front of a Buc-ee’s in Katy.

GasBuddy agrees with the hype, naming Buc-ee’s America’s best gas station in 2018. Other finalists included Wawa, Sheetz and QuikTrip.

“These are destination brands that directly compete with restaurants, coffee shops, and — in some cases — even supermarkets,” Frank Beard, convenience store and retail trends analyst at GasBuddy, said in a statement with the award. “Although gas stations are still in the business of selling gas, the leading brands have become so much more. They’re a refuge for motorists looking for great food, an amazing cup of coffee, or some of the best customer service you’ll find anywhere.”

We must not forget to mention one final reason why people are obsessed with Buc-ee’s … beaver nuggets! They are sweet treats that look a bit like popcorn but plenty of travelers say test like heaven.

Martin Loya, the general manager of a Buc-ee’s in New Braunfels, Texas, summed up Buc-ee’s pretty clearly.

“We are the Disney of convenience stores,” he told Austonia in 2021.

(The New Braunfels location, by the way, stands at 66,335 square feet with more than 1,000 parking spots and 120 gas pumps.)

The rest stop’s fandom has drawn some critics, people who are tired of Texans’ obsession with what ultimately boils down to a place that sells gasoline. Dallas Morning News columnist Jacquielynn Floyd described herself as one of those Buc-ee’s obsessives the internet is tired of.

“It’s people like me — unabashed fans who love the place, who own and wear beaver-logo sweatshirts, who bounce in the car with excitement at the sight of the cartoon mascot atop a tall roadside pole,” she wrote in 2018. “I’d call it a guilty pleasure if I felt guilty, which I don’t.

“The reason is that this is very much a Texas phenomenon, and Texans are accustomed to derision.”

Floyd went so far as to write an entire column about why those critics should get over themselves, including a list of five reasons for why the place is great. Among them? Well, the restrooms, of course.

“You can pee without buying anything. This is no small matter for anyone who has ever endured the baleful glare of an irate clerk who expects you to purchase at least a candy bar for the privilege of using a grimy toilet and a sink with no soap or hot water,” she wrote.

Taking over the country

The first Buc-ee’s opened in Lake Jackson in 1982. And love for the gas station has only grown since.

Now, the convenience store has more than 30 locations in Texas alone and more across the country in Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Kentucky, with more being built all the time.

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Buc-ee’s held the groundbreaking in Florence for its first-ever location in South Carolina on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. The gas station is part of a much larger development in the area that includes an expansion of Francis-Marion University’s ecology program. Chase Karacostas [email protected]

The Florence station opens in just a few weeks, but Buc-ee’s is already planning a second one for the Palmetto State in the Upstate. That location, in Anderson, is planned to open in 2025. The long timeline is to allow for millions of dollars of infrastructure improvements, much of which will be paid for by Buc-ee’s, that have to be done to the area before the gas station can be built.

“We’re all from the South, and I just feel like down to the culture, the foods — even though the barbecue may be slightly different — I think there’s just a lot of things about the culture of the South that travels from Texas all the way up to South Carolina,” Buc-ee’s owner Beaver Aplin said at the Florence location’s groundbreaking in 2020. “This morning I have grits for breakfast right here. Well, we eat grits in Texas. Yeah. So it’s those kind of things. Not everybody in the country are grit fans, but in the South, we are.”

The Buc-ee’s gas station in Florence opens on May 16. It’s time to plan your next rest stop on the way to the beach — and don’t forget to grab a bag of beaver nuggets.

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Chase Karacostas writes about tourism in Myrtle Beach and across South Carolina for McClatchy. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2020 with degrees in Journalism and Political Communication. He began working for McClatchy in 2020 after growing up in Texas, where he has bylines in three of the state’s largest print media outlets as well as the Texas Tribune covering state politics, the environment, housing and the LGBTQ+ community.