The Coffee Cup Hotel

C-stores are known for providing a myriad of services, but could your stores house customers for the night if the weather turned bad?

Coffee Cup Fuel Stops, which operates eight 24-hour locations in the Dakotas and Wyoming, is no stranger to hosting overnight guests at its Summit, S.D. location, where winter storms have been known to catch commuters off guard.

Makeshift Hotel
In the nearly five years store manager Nannette Nielsen has worked at Coffee Cup’s Summit station, which sits at the intersection of two busy highways, snowstorms that force travelers off the road and into the store have been par for the course. The most severe storm struck in April 2008, when 24 inches of snow forced about 200 customers to spend the night at the store after a nearby bed and breakfast reached its capacity.

“It got to the point about 2 p.m. on a Friday where you couldn’t see outside,” Nielsen said. “It was one of those storms where I think they predicted it, but people thought it wasn’t going to get so bad, so there were still a lot of people out on the road, and they started stopping at our store because they couldn’t go any farther. For the rest of the afternoon and the evening people just stopped and this is where they stayed.”

Soon, snowplows were even called off the roads and I-29 was closed. Luckily, the c-store is well adapted to winter visitors and was ready to respond.

“We have a couple little casino lottery rooms, so those were pretty full. People slept on the floor, in the aisles,” Nielsen noted. “The fire department brought extra blankets for people so they could get comfortable and sleep. We have shower rooms for the truckers, and we had one bigger shower where we put a family on the floor, and in a couple other showers we put some elderly people, tried to get them comfortable.”

Winter Warriors
This winter, the Summit location is prepared to snap into action, should a similar storm require its hospitality. The most difficult part of the preparation is making sure enough staff members are available. Summit requires two employees to be working during each of the three shifts.

“Half of our employees come from the local area, but the other half come from surrounding towns about 30 miles away,” Nielsen said. “If we have people scheduled from out of town and there’s a major snowstorm they can’t get here, so we have to have employees who are from our town cover the shift.”

In April of 2008, those who were working when the storm hit continued working until the roads were clear. This winter, it makes sure to schedule local employees during  forecasted storms. “We had a couple of employees coming back and forth to shifts on snowmobiles.”

Ready for Visitors
To prepare for the storm season, the store stays well stocked with supplies that might be needed in a pinch, including plenty of windshield wiper fluid and automotive items. It has a stash of blankets on hand and keeps its grocery items well stocked.

The store also makes sure it’s foodservice program is ready to feed a large influx of customers—Summit operates a deli, a hot food program including hamburgers and Hot Stuff Foods pizza.

The most important task when taking on customers for the night is trying to make everybody feel safe, warm and comfortable. “We try to keep spirits up because everybody is down,” Nielsen said. “You have to keep the spirits up. And have plenty of product on hand.”  CSD

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