East Tennessee convenience store chain Weigel's, which has eyed entry into the Chattanooga market for years, expects to open its first store here in about three weeks, followed by its second in early June.
"We're getting closer," said Bill Weigel, chairman and chief executive of the company based in Powell, just outside Knoxville. "Everything goes slower than you think."
The first store will open in Hixson on Highway 153 next to Academy Sports + Outdoors. The second is located at Highway 153 and Shallowford Road at the site of a former auto dealership.
While each store will hold about 6,000 square feet of space along with gasoline pumps, the Shallowford Road facility also will offer truck fueling, Weigel said.
The namesake chain eventually expects to open at least a half dozen units in the market, with the first two each costing from $8 million to $9 million and employing from 35 to 40 people, he said in a telephone interview.
The initial pair will introduce many area residents to the business that will have 74 units ranging from Chattanooga to Bristol to Crossville to the North Carolina line, when the two stores open locally, Weigel said.
"You've got to get people to know you first," he said, noting the stores will offer the company's latest look.
According to past Chattanooga permits, Weigel's also has expressed interest in a possible site at 4027 Hixson Pike, where several buildings including a former Backyard Burgers location were demolished.
In addition, permits have shown Weigel's interest in tracts at 5531 Highway 58 at Clark Road, 5514 Brainerd Road near Spring Creek Road and 3107 Amnicola Highway, close to the entrance to the Centre South Riverport.
Jon Hughes, the principal broker and owner of Tower Property Group who has been working with Weigel's, said the company is actively looking in the market but he declined to identify sites.
"They have me watching constantly," he said by phone. "Their goal is to grow from Maryville to Chattanooga."
But Hughes added that finding the right parcel is dependent on traffic count and where the store site can fit.
"We're topographically challenged in Chattanooga," he quipped. He said that while residents enjoy the area's mountains and streams, the goal is to find locations that work for the company while not impacting the environment.
Weigel said he likes Chattanooga's growth.
"It's a progressive town," he said. "We think it's a good place to be."
Still, Weigel said, the company "has to produce. We've got to prove it."
"We worry when we go out of our territory," the chain's CEO said.
He said patrons will see that milk is a key item for the company, which was founded as a dairy with his grandfather and father heavily involved in the venture.
Also, fuel is a major seller, Weigel said. In the Knoxville area, the chain sells about 39% of all fuel, he said.
Inside its new stores, Weigel's will provide a robust food-to-go offering as well as seating, the company official said.
Weigel recalled that the business has evolved over the years, going from a dairy to selling milk at small stores to its current model.
According to the company's website, the Weigel family entered the dairy business in 1931 with four cows. Walk-in stores didn't appear until 1964.
Weigel's enters a competitive convenience store market in the Chattanooga area.
Food City continues to aggressively place its Gas 'N Go fuel centers next to its stores. At Food City's new $12 million East Ridge supermarket, for example, the company also is building a fueling site.
Walmart has Murphy USA fuel stations at some of its Supercenters and next to its Neighborhood Markets in the Chattanooga area.
Knoxville-based Pilot, along with major players Speedway and RaceTrac, also have entered the fuel fray in and around Chattanooga in recent years, joining existing companies such as Mapco, Circle K and others.