Just seven months ago, Iowa-bound motorists crossing the Interstate-74 bridge could fill their tanks and stop for a snack at the gas station of their choice in downtown Bettendorf.
Now, motorists must travel farther along the I-74 corridor to find gas after three stations immediately off the bridge were closed or demolished to make way for the realignment of State and Grant streets and the Interstate-74 bridge project.
The Big 10 Mart, located at 999 Middle Road, remains the next nearest gas station from the bridge, and owners have planned accordingly with a recent $2 million renovation.
Now offering four 46-inch flat-screen televisions, an electric fireplace and exposed brick interior, the convenience store was demolished and rebuilt in three months to offer a “five-star hotel-type of experience,” said Brian Matlock, vice president of marketing and retail operations for all 17 Big 10 Marts in Illinois and Iowa.
The 24-hour Molo Petroleum-owned shop, which reopened July 25, also offers fresh produce, premium deli meat and fresh-squeezed orange juice, Matlock said.
“There’s nobody else that’s doing things like this,” he said. “It was a nice investment to make this store unique.”
City officials have called the Big 10 Mart the final piece of the Duck Creek Plaza and Middle Road Plaza puzzle.
“It’s incredible,” said Bill Connors, Bettendorf’s chief building official. “You’ve got to be flashy if you’re going to survive.”
Two miles from the renovated Big 10 Mart off I-74 stands Lund’s 66 — a family-owned repair shop, gas station and convenience store — which has relied on local customers for 14 years at 977 Spruce Hills Drive.
Steve Logsdon, son-in-law of owners Mike and Barb Lund, said they have seen a bump in business since downtown Bettendorf lost its gas stations.
“We anticipated some extra traffic early on, but it’s still pretty darn busy,” Logsdon said. “And we still have the same regulars who drive across town to come to our station.”
While they predicted a drop in business once the Big 10 Mart reopened, Logsdon said they have not yet noticed a change.
“I wouldn’t say we have too much competition,” he said, adding that the store is expanding its food menu. “People just really like the family feel because you don’t see that too often anymore. We really cannot complain.”
Matlock said the new brand of Big 10 aims to exceed customer expectations and target the younger consumer, especially females.
“For some reason, they either don’t trust it or had a bad experience in the past so instead of viewing it as a place for an emergency purchase, we want it to be a destination for them,” Matlock said.
By this winter, the former Big 10 Mart at 411 14th St., and the former Q-C Mart next door at 1402 State St., will be demolished. The Shell gas station, formerly located between the others at 333 14th St., was demolished in July 2012.
Entering Bettendorf from the west, motorists pass three other former gas stations along State Street that have sat vacant for many years.
The former Phillips 66 at 845 State St. has not seen activity since 2001, while the former Clark gas station at 1543 State St. has not been active since 2000, Connors said. Additionally, the used-car dealership at 931 State St. has sat vacant for the past six months and has not been a gas station since 1997.
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Richard Pokora, vice president of the Bettendorf Business Network, said he has grown tired of passing vacant gas stations in the downtown.
“The irony is that they have torn down the good businesses in downtown, but they’ve left for years the abandoned gas stations, which gives the downtown its blighted, traumatic look,” Pokora said.
Steve VanDyke, Bettendorf’s director of economic development, said the city has begun to set aside dollars to acquire vacant downtown properties.
“I’m not sure if the city would purchase the gas stations, but the interest is there,” said VanDyke, predicting that at least two gas stations will return to downtown Bettendorf following the construction projects.
Matlock said Molo Petroleum has expressed an interest in returning to downtown Bettendorf.
“There needs to be a good convenience store down there,” Matlock said. “The property has to be right, but if we can do something like this, we’d love to be back down there.”
VanDyke said the city has talked with multiple companies.
“When one comes, there will be a competitor,” he said.