When a 35,000-square-foot convenience store wasn't enough, Buc-ee's built one twice as large next door

Photos via Phil West

‘We’re not bumping into customers as much’: The world’s largest Buc-ee’s just opened in Texas. There’s just one problem

‘My son, he’s always here at the Buc-ee’s.’

 

Phil West

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You might argue that the original Buc-ee’s store in Luling, Texas, built in 2003 as the Houston-based chain’s first jumbo-sized travel store, is the epitome of “everything’s bigger in Texas.”

At around 35,000 square feet, the Luling location—about an hour’s drive from both San Antonio and Austin—helped Buc-ee’s build its brand, offering travelers in multiple states “pristine bathrooms, a large amount of fueling positions, friendly service, Buc-ee’s apparel and fresh, delicious food.”

But the new Luling store, literally next door to the now-fenced-off original version alongside Interstate 10, takes it to the next level.

It’s more than 75,000 square feet—to give you a reference point many Buc-ee’s shoppers will get, a football field (including end zones) is about 57,000 square feet. Even though its boasts about 120 fueling positions highlights its intention as a place to gas up, get snacks, use the restroom, and get back on the road, it’s now leaning decidedly into Walmart territory with its myriad offerings, and it’s not necessarily a place to make a brief pit stop anymore.

Yes, you can get snacks like Beaver Nuggets (its puzzlingly popular caramel-coated corn pops) and “world famous jerky” (at least, that’s what the sign above the display says), but you can also get Yukon-brand coolers (which seem Yeti-aspirational), cornhole sets adorned with Buc-ee’s beaver mascot, Stanley-style tumblers with sayings like, “You know what rhymes with camping … alcohol,” wooden signs with sayings like “Coffee: My hot friend I was telling you about,” and Christian shirts reading “Don’t try me; try Jesus” and “Hold my halo; I’m about to do unto others as they have done unto me.”

That is, if you’re patient enough to get there.

On Saturday, the first weekend day since last Monday’s grand opening, it takes more than 20 minutes and nine different stoplight cycles to traverse the last third of a mile from U.S. Highway 183 to the Buc-ee’s entrance, with a similar traffic jam going the I-10 access road route. Once you’ve turned off the main road, you have to wait in another line to secure a parking spot, inching past the former Buc-ee’s building on the way.

World's largest Buc-ee's grand opening
Photo by Phil West

Once parked and inside, though, you begin to understand why they made the move they did.

“Everything’s more spaced out so we’re not bumping into customers as much,” says employee Ruth Perez, a local who’s been working at the store for a month. “It’s better that it’s bigger.”

“I like the bigger store,” said Terri, a team leader who’s been with Buc-ee’s on and off for six years, normally working at a smaller location (but still colossal by normal store standards) in Bastrop, an Austin exurb familiar to Austin-to-Houston travelers. “I like that it’s fresh and new and exciting.”

Buc-ee’s development brings jobs to Luling

Buc-ee’s press release on the opening notes that this location, the 50th in the Buc-ee’s empire, “will add even more jobs to the area, employing at least 200 team members, with starting pay beginning well above minimum wage, full benefits, a 6% matching 401k, and three weeks of paid vacation.” The Daily Dot has reached out to the media representative who issued the press release.

The Daily Dot’s prior coverage on Buc-ee’s looked into concerns about those jobs, with one ex-employee asserting, “It’s not worth anywhere near the $21 an hour they pay you,” and another pointing out its then-2.7 employee rating (now 2.6) on Indeed.

Caldwell County Judge Hoppy Haden, in last November’s CBS Austin story on the groundbreaking, said, “This is probably one of the biggest deals to come to Caldwell County in a long, long time. Buc-ee’s is kind of part of the fabric of Luling.”

The story noted that “the Central Texas community is a small town looking for ways to get bigger. Its population is struggling to hit 6,000 and without an influx of jobs, more people could be forced down the road to find work.”

World's largest Buc-ee's grand opening
Photo by Phil West

Perez noted that even though the newness of the 2.0 version is contributing to the sheer numbers who have converged upon it, she also maintains that “it’s busy most weekends” and doesn’t find the bustling crowd inside to be too intimidating—especially with the extra room to move around.

Buc-ee’s cultivated fandom in the two decades since the original Luling store opened. Russ and Sheri Davey from Knoxville, Tennessee, part of a touring group traveling to San Antonio by bus, wanted to make the pilgrimage to the original Buc-ee’s. Russ appreciates the “selection” and the “neat novelty items” Buc-ee’s offers, and notes that a Buc-ee’s is going up in his hometown. (Prior to Monday’s ribbon cutting, the largest Buc-ee’s, at 74,000 square feet, was in the Volunteer State.)

World's largest Buc-ee's grand opening
Photo by Phil West

Buc-ee’s nation

A woman from Austin identifying herself as Stephanie, who said her and her husband just wanted to “get out of the house” and made the hour-plus trip down, also touted “selection” as a main attraction. “I do like their selection of clothing,” she said, wearing a “Y’all need Jesus” shirt that wouldn’t be out of place on its racks. She did note, however, that she’s “not really” a fan of the ubiquitous beaver featured on a vast array of clothing.

One couple, Christian and Vanessa Sanchez, has driven their three-day-old Cybertruck to charge up at one of the store’s Tesla Superchargers en route from San Antonio to College Station for a George Strait concert. Their love for Buc-ee’s is boundless; Christian volunteers that his 3-year-old loves Buc-ee’s the Buc-ee’s mascot, and sleeps with a stuffed Buc-ee, and they recently threw him a Buc-ee’s-themed birthday party at a bowling alley. They produce photos revealing the levels of merch acquired to nail the theme.

World's largest Buc-ee's grand opening
Photo by Phil West

“My son, he’s always here at the Buc-ee’s,” Christian says, noting they drive this way a lot and are about to see the new store for this first time. “He loves Buc-ee’s.”

Most of the people traveling to Buc-ee’s won’t ponder existential questions about whether it’s a job-producing haven to a town best known for its annual Watermelon Thump Festival, a brick-and-mortar embodiment of retail hubris in the age of late capitalism, or maybe Why Not Both.

Its fans like the food, like the cute beaver mascot, like the lifestyle elements that have increasingly become part of its draw, and perhaps ironically, like the convenience it’s designed to provide, even though in these first days, the car-clogged approach to this Taj Mahal of convenience stores tests the limits of convenience and the patience of even its most loyal customers.

 
The Daily Dot