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Colorado’s first Buc-ee’s opens its doors with Texas brisket, beaver nuggets and super-clean restrooms

Buc-ee’s has made it to Colorado.

A red-capped beaver, the mascot of the super-sized, Texas-based travel centers, was front and center on outdoor signs and throughout the 74,000-square-foot store as a crowd flooded through the doors that opened at 6 a.m. Monday in Johnstown.

The store is the first Buc-ee’s in Colorado and the company’s farthest west. The grand opening drew hundreds of people, many of whom waited outside for hours. The crowd included first-timers along with devotees of the on-steroids gas station and convenience store.

Gerry Almaraz drove in from Scottsbluff, Neb., for the opening, arriving at midnight Sunday. He’s been to several Buc-ee’s in Texas but had never gone to a grand opening.

“I wanted to experience that at least once in my life. I’m not sure when they’re going to open another one so I thought hey, let’s give it a go,” Almaraz said. “I love Buc-ee’s.”

And he explained why. “Nostalgia, the feeling that everybody knows Buc-ee’s. The food is good. So are the snacks, the people.”

Company officials were waiting to see if Buc-ee’s would generate the same kind of buzz that the entry of other regional favorites to the Colorado market have. Crowds turned out for the first Krispy Kremes and In-N-Out Burgers.

“Sometimes we have a hundred people, sometimes 200, sometimes 300 waiting outside for hours on end for 6 a.m.,” said Josh Smith, director of operations for Buc-ee’s.

Smith estimated 400 to 500 people were waiting Monday morning to be welcomed inside out of the 30-some-degree cold.

“Some of them have been here since 10 last night. There’s just a lot of energy, excitement,” said Smith, whose visit to northern Colorado marks his 28th grand opening of a Buc-ee’s.

The Johnstown store is tied with a Buc-ee’s in Tennessee for being the world’s largest convenience store, Smith said. But not for long. The original Buc-ee’s location in Luling, Texas, is being replaced with a center slightly more than 75,000 square feet.

“We’re rebuilding it to make it the world’s largest so Texas can have that title back,” Smith said.

Aidan Pearis of Longmont, was dressed in a Buc-ee’s Christmas sweater over a Buc-ee the beaver hoodie. His brother, Doug, was more low-key. His paraphernalia was limited to a Buc-ee’s ball cap.

The younger brother goes to school in Atlanta and stops at several Buc-ee’s traveling back and forth. “I’ve been to 15 different Buc-ee’s already,” he said.

What’s the attraction? “It has an aura. I don’t know,” Aidan said.

“There’s something unique about it,” said Doug, who makes some of the trips.

“And on a road trip it has like the best food, the best bathrooms,” Aidan said.

“To me personally it just reminds me of driving back and forth,” Doug said.

“Yeah, good memories, fun times,” Aidan added.

Asked how he would describe a Buc-ee’s to people who are new to the stores, Smith replied, “sensory overload.”

“From all the different things that you see when you walk through the doors, to all the different smells, from the savory brisket being chopped on the board right in front of you to the nuts being roasted,” Smith said. “It’s just sweet and savory and the sights are just overwhelming.”

There are outdoor barbecue pits. The stores sell camping supplies. Food and snacks run the gamut from brisket sandwiches, fudge, freshly made pastries and beaver nuggets, which are caramel-coated corn pops.

And there are what fans say and the company swears are “the cleanest restrooms in America.” The ones in the Johnstown store feature red and green lights above the long rows of doors to signal which stalls are occupied or open.

Outside, there are 116 fuel pumps and 12 charging stations for electric vehicles. The travel centers aren’t truck stops and 18-wheelers aren’t welcome at most of its 48 sites, a practice that has been criticized by truckers.

The company has said its travel centers are “optimized for passenger vehicles.”

Smith said Buc-ee’s decided to build a store in Colorado because Denver is a major hub with a lot of traffic flowing through it. The company located the store in Johnstown in northern Colorado because of its accessibility and the community’s receptiveness.

The store is at the southwest corner of Interstate 25 and Colorado 60. The address is 5201 Nugget Road, The region is one of the fastest-growing in the state.

Johnstown Mayor Troy Mellon said the town is “thrilled to welcome the first Colorado Buc-ee’s.”

“Buc-ee’s is recognized as a premier retail destination that will attract customers from far and wide, thereby enriching our regional economy,” Mellon said in a statement.

The store’s anticipated annual sales will be about $25 million, Mellon said. He joined other local officials for a grand opening ceremony later in the morning.

The new store has a staff of approximately 250 full-time employees. The pay is in the $18-$22 range and benefits include medical and dental coverage and a 6% matching 401(k) contribution after one year on the job.

It didn’t take long for the throng of shoppers to fill baskets and carts. There were plenty of stuffed Buc-ee beavers, T-shirts, hats and beaver nuggets piled up at the checkouts.

Chip and Liz Wasson of Fort Collins were still walking around, checking out the offerings. Chip has been to a couple of the stores in Texas.

“This is my first time in one but I’ve heard a lot about them,” Liz said. “It’s wild.”

Chip said the Johnstown store is pretty much the same as other locations he has visited. “Which I think is a good thing for Buc-ee’s,” he said. “It’s a good representation of Buc-ee’s-ness if you will. I think it will be a good in-between northern Colorado and Denver, a good place to stop.”

Updated at 8:08 a.m. Tuesday, March 19, 2024, to insert street address of store.

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