Buc-ee’s Better Watch Out, Missouri & Illinois Have Wally’s
Have you ever heard of Wally's? I hadn't until I started road tripping back to Chicago and stumbled upon Wally's in a cornfield off of Interstate 55 in Pontiac, Illinois. I was intrigued by the gas station/monument to consumerism but just kept on trucking since I figured I could go several more exits before having to fill up my tank. When I saw Only In Your State talking about Wally's off of Interstate 44 in Fenton, well I knew I had to learn a little bit more about it.
Looking at Wally's website and their Facebook page I'd say they've definitely been looking at the playbook of that big, unique, travel center that has the beaver mascot and is big in Texas. After all, the key attributes of the two businesses are eerily similar.
Wally's "Home of the Great American Roadtrip" promises great service, tasty food, clean restrooms, and unexpected necessities. Buc-ee's, meanwhile promises the cleanest restrooms in America, and a "clean, friendly, and in-stock experience" for their customers.
And let me tell you, the Buc-ee's experience when you step into their store is overwhelming. At least if you show up at one of their massive convenience stores/gift shops/gas stations. And they're not lying about the bathrooms either. The one I was in was so clean, you'd be OK to eat something you dropped on the floor (not that I recommend that, but you know what I mean.)
Wally's seems to be offering the same thing. Lots of gas pumps, food, road snacks, clean restrooms, great customer service, and lots of branded merchandise. Wally's in a couple of ways seems to be trying to one-up Buc-ee's. They don't have a pick-up in their stores, they have a Winnebago in the store. Along with some cute furry mascots that in my mind evoke Hannah-Barbarea's animation.
I'll admit I'm fascinated with Buc-ee Beaver and enamored by Wally's furry cartoon creations. Yet I couldn't find the names of any of these characters anywhere. I guess it's safe to assume though the bear's name is Wally?
Between the Facebook page and the website, I like the merchandising and branding the store is doing that I've seen. From the Wally's stuffed camper dog toy to the "Wallelujah" T-shirts, and the branded hats it just makes me smile.
Wally’s President and CEO Michael Rubenstein told Convenience Store News, "Wally’s is truly the ultimate travel center for everyone, but we really wanted to home in on the Midwest traveler and create the ultimate destination for them and their families."
According to CSNews, the store's brand inspiration takes its cues from family road trips of the '70s and '80s and tries to give visitors a taste of what they'd experience while taking an old-school road trip interwoven with modern amenities most of us expect today. And while Buc-ee's is mostly associated with Texas, make no mistake, Wally's is definitely trying to go for the Midwest vibe.
The Wally's on I-55 in Pontiac, Illinois came first opening in September 2020, with the Fenton location on I-44 opening in March.
I for one will certainly be making a pit stop to check out the Wally's on Interstate 55 in Pontiac the next time I go home, and I'd expect when I leave, my wallet will be a little lighter. One last burning question I have is: What's their version of Beaver Nuggets?