Was A Stop at Wally’s As Fun As Buc-ee’s?
Last year I spotted a new place to stop on the way to Chicago and get off the road. Definitely, a tourist trap kind of place called Wally's on Interstate 55 in Pontiac, modeled after Buc-ee's. So does it live up to the hype?
Wally's bills itself as "Home of the great American road trip" and promises great service, tasty food, and clean restrooms. Wally's says they have 72 gas pumps, 20 stalls in the women's restrooms, 10 stalls in the men's restrooms with 11 urinals, in-store wi-fi, sweet treats, a popcorn station, a beef jerky bar, and even a carving station.
Wally's has two locations. One in Fenton off of Interstate 44, and one in Pontiac, Illinois off of Interstate 55. I stopped at the one in Pontiac, off of Interstate 55 around dinnertime on a Thursday evening right as it was starting to sleet and snow and it was almost a little too quiet for my liking. You can learn more about Wally's on this piece I wrote last year.
I arrived at Wally's on the first cold sleety, snowy, night of the season. I started dealing with the sleet and snow somewhere between Springfield and Bloomington, Illinois on Interstate 55, and I desperately needed to gas up, clean my windshield, and use the restroom so Wally's art deco sign was a sight for my sore eyes.
Before even entering the store Wally Bear and his friends greeted me in the well-lit, very clean, and somewhat empty store. Now, it was a Thursday night around 6:30 PM and there was some weather happening. Not to mention it was a couple of weeks before Christmas, so that's why Wally's may have been so quiet.
As for the bathrooms. Generally, they were clean. Yet for a building that was a year old, they seemed to have a problem with toilet paper getting stuck in the stall toilets. A few were out of order because of that, as were some sinks. The bathroom smelled a little bit too. It definitely was cleaner than the average restroom you might incur on your trip up Interstate 55, but it wasn't Buc-ee's clean, at least not as clean as the one I witnessed.
If you want it, Wally's has it. Road snacks, meals, drinks, camping supplies, household goods, and car stuff. I wasn't very hungry, and I knew Mom would want to feed me when I got to her place, so I passed on the food. Although I did pick up a soda.
Wally's seems to be missing the killer instinct to put Wally Bear and their logo on everything and anything someone could want. I was hoping to do some kitschy Christmas shopping, but when it was all said and done I left with some Wally's branded candy and one other item to use as stocking stuffers. When we walked out of Buc-ee's, they had suckered us into buying a couple of thermal mugs, a t-shirt, a hat, beaver nuggets, and a bunch of snacks and candy.
Probably the best Wally's logoed stuff is their t-shirts. There was a great selection of shirts for both adults and kids. Some of them were specific to the Pontiac store, while others could be sold at both the Pontiac and Fenton store. Some shirts dealt with Route 66 and Pontiac without mentioning the store.
I was personally disappointed because the two Wally's shirts specific to Pontiac that I would have purchased weren't available in my size. Then, another shirt I was interested in I didn't like the material the shirt was printed on. In the end, I passed on the shirt this time, thinking I'll stop in and see if they have them next time. Plus, I knew I was probably coming home with a t-shirt from the concert I was going to, so it was a way to save a little bit of cash.
The bottom line, my experience at Wally's in Pontiac was a little underwhelming. Now some of it may of had to do with it coming at the end of a long day of driving. Not to mention Pontiac is close enough to my Mom's house, about 90 minutes away, that I just wanted to get home. Some of it may also have had to do with the weather. Not to mention just how quiet it was.
Part of the Buc-ee's experience is the whole overwhelming visual nature of the experience. People are a big part of that. I didn't get that at Wally's. That doesn't mean you won't, I'm sure there are times when there's a buzz of people in and out, looking at the merch, buying food, the whole thing. I just stopped there at the end of a day on a snowy night, most folks were probably off the highway by the time I stopped.
Will I stop at Wally's again? Maybe. It's not that it's a place I'd purposely avoid. it's just that if I need a bathroom break north of St. Louis, I'm probably not going to wait until I'm 90 minutes away from my Mom's to stop. (I did purposely keep pushing to Wally's this time to specifically check it out.) Heading back home toward Sedalia, it's almost too early for a pit stop. That said, I'm a sucker for a novelty t-shirt, and Wally Bear and his friends make me smile.