Tom Kammerman and all the other “sweeties,” “huns” and “baby cakes” must find a new place to buy fuel.
Their gas tanks will be full, but something will be missing when the Big 10 Mart at 411 14th St., Bettendorf, closes at midnight tonight as part of the Interstate-74 bridge project and street realignment.
“Think about it: You can get gas anywhere. There are a million places to get gas, but they treat me like family here,” Kammerman said after fueling up last week. “It’s a social thing, and that’s priceless.”
He visits three or four times a week from Milan.
The 24-hour Molo Petroleum-owned convenience store is locking its doors midnight for the first time since opening in 2007, said Denise Robinson, the store’s assistant manager who greets regulars with warm endearments and everyone with a “Welcome to Big 10.”
The store canceled its Thursday milk delivery, and the shelves were thinning early in the week. One customer even asked if someone had robbed the store’s cigarettes.
The QC Mart next door at 1402 State St., also will shut down no later than Feb. 1, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation. The store already has removed its ATM, but it received deliveries last week. Store managers were unavailable to comment on the site’s specific closing date.
Both businesses, like dozens of others, are being forced to move and will be demolished before the biggest Quad-City public works project in decades can begin in 2017.
The gas stations remain critical businesses of Bettendorf’s downtown because of their proximity to the bridge, said Steve Van Dyke, Bettendorf’s director of economic development. Many Illinois drivers travel to the stations to get cheaper gas and cigarettes because of lower Iowa taxes. Gas at both stations this past week was $3.19, while the Quick Stop at 1830 5th Ave. in downtown Moline was $3.29.
Both stores also have been longtime lottery retailers and rank in the top 10 percent in sales of the 2,400 lottery retailers in the state, Iowa Lottery Vice President Mary Neubauer said.
Silvis residents Dave and Sandy Gutknecht drove their GMC Yukon to the QC Mart on Monday to take advantage of the cheaper gas.
“This thing just eats gas, and that’s part of the reason we come over here,” Dave Gutknecht said. “Illinois is always higher, and I hate paying for gas, period.”
Van Dyke said the vacant land in downtown Bettendorf will see at least two gas stations return following the bridge’s completion.
“There are 75,000 chances every day to capture people that are crossing on the bridge alone," he said. "That’s a lot of people that they have the potential to capture. Those gas stations, convenience stores, are going to want to be back and do what they’ve always done.”
Van Dyke added that the city has had discussions with both of the gas-station owners about relocation, but in the end, it is their decision to where they want to go next.
The Shell gas station, formerly located between the others at 333 14th St., was demolished in July 2012. Plans to relocate to 53rd Street have not materialized.
Bettendorf City Administrator Decker Ploehn said the city will look increasingly bleaker before it can redevelop and resurge.
“That’s the unfortunate byproduct of all this,” he said. “The greater good of all this is that we’re going to get a bridge at the end of the day that is four lanes wide in each direction with shoulders, much more reliable, much more significant in our skyline, much safer, so we have to do all that.”
The signs and lights that have advertised cheap gas and illuminated downtown Bettendorf soon will be turned off when the buildings are demolished, but Van Dyke said he thinks there are enough street lights downtown to make up for the lost light.
Bettendorf Police Chief Phil Redington said he has not given the lack of lighting much thought up to this point, but he and his officers will evaluate the issue when the time comes.
“Once the service stations are gone, if it leaves a void that we think lighting could improve the security of the area, then we will work not only with the city, but MidAmerican to put up some lights,” he said.
For years, Redington said the area attracted a lot of police activity, but crime dropped after the Traveler Motel, previously just north of the Big 10 Mart at 433 14th St., closed its doors. The building shut down in December 2010 and was demolished in January 2012 to help clear the way for the bridge project. Redington referred to the motel as a “unique type of business.”
“Off and on, that was a busy place,” he said. “We want every business in Bettendorf to stay open, but when that closed down, of course, a lot of calls for service were not needed at that particular location.”
While Van Dyke said the city’s finance department is concerned about the decrease in property tax revenue it will see with the demolition of so many buildings downtown, his true focus is centered on how the project will affect the community.
“I wonder what the customers, the people who drive by every day, and the businesses’ employees, what are they going to do? That’s what really concerns me,” he said.
All of the Big 10 Mart employees currently working at the 14th Street location will be relocated to one of the 10 other locations in the Quad-City area, said Cassie Chaney, manager of the store.
She will work at the Big 10 Mart at 999 Middle Road, the next nearest gas station from the bridge.
The 14th Street convenience store also served customers with booth seating and comfort food, specifically deli sandwiches and fried chicken, something Chaney said she definitely will miss.
“We have the best fried chicken in the Quad-Cities, and now that’s going to end,” she said.
As for the regulars, they will just have to find new gas stations, and there are several to pick from nearby.
Lisha Stieniger, manager of the Shell station at 3718 State St., about two miles from the bridge, said she has not seen a boost in business yet, but she predicts she will notice a change after both gas stations downtown are gone.
“I’m sure we will, because we’ll be the first gas station off the bridge,” said Stieniger, whose station’s gas was 15 cents cheaper than the two stations right off the bridge this week.
Technically, the Big 10 Mart at 999 Middle Road remains the nearest gas station from the bridge, but Molo Petroleum plans to demolish and rebuild that location soon.
“I feel bad that there’s this interim,” Van Dyke said. “Our goal is to get through this and make it as fast as we can.”