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Staff photo by Mike Pare / Heavy equipment sits on the site of a planned Weigel's convenience store at Hixson Pike and North Access Road.
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Photo by Knoxville News Sentinel / A Weigel's store on Kingston Pike in Knoxville is shown. The Powell, Tennessee-based chain has 66 units in East Tennessee and is planning a foray into Chattanooga in 2019.

Weigel's convenience store chain is now looking at marching into the Chattanooga market in late 2019 as the company readies to do battle against a growing list of competitors.

Chief Executive Bill Weigel said the East Tennessee-based chain, which made rumbles three years ago about entering Chattanooga, decided to first finish a build-out in the Tri-Cities area. Also, he said, the company is still searching for potential store locations in the Chattanooga area.

"You have to come in with some kind of density," Weigel said. "After Tri-Cities, we're going to do Chattanooga."

The Powell, Tennessee-based convenience store chain appears to have at least four locations under its control in the Chattanooga area. In 2015, it identified a parcel at Signal Mountain Road and U.S. Highway 27 across from the Baylor School entrance.

Also, the company has started tearing down empty buildings at a Hixson Pike and North Access Road site, where a Backyard Burgers restaurant stood for many years before closing.

ABOUT WEIGEL’S

The Weigel family entered the dairy business in 1931 with four cows. Primarily to provide an outlet for returnable gallon milk jugs and other dairy products, Weigel’s pioneered drive-through stores in East Tennessee. In 1958, the 500-square-foot “Store Number 1” opened in Knoxville. Walk-in stores didn’t appear until 1964, according to the company.

In addition, Weigel's is seeking a land disturbance permit for 5514 Brainerd Road near Spring Creek Road. Additionally, the chain obtained another permit for 3107 Amnicola Highway, near the entrance to the Riverport.

"We're building up our number," Weigel said. "We're getting close."

He said he'd like to have more than half a dozen units.

"You've got to have a little mass to make everything work," the CEO said.

Weigel's, which has 66 stores in Tennessee, has its own dairy and bakery to supply its units, although those are about 100 miles away from Chattanooga, he said.

He projected that each new store costs from $3 million to $3.5 million to put up, including the land.

"We'll be making a significant investment there," Weigel said.

Each store employs about 20 to 25 workers, he said, noting some units are open 24 hours. Weigel said its stores now prepare food for sale, in addition to offering gasoline and other merchandise.

He said that while Tri-Cities was picked to go before Chattanooga because Upper East Tennessee is more familiar with the Weigel's brand, he's looking forward to entering the market.

Weigel credited Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke will helping the company get a demolition permit for a site.

"He seems business friendly," he said. "His attitude was 'We'll fix it.'"

When Weigel's enters Chattanooga, it will meet a growing array of competition. The most recent is Food City's Gas N' Go stores, which the grocer continues to build next to or near some of the units as it modernizes them or constructs new ones.

Across Food City's network, about 85 percent of its stores offer fuel locations, said Food City Chief Executive Steve Smith.

"People are passionate about fuel and if they can save money on fuel by buying groceries, that's something I think that's very positive for folks," Smith said.

The entrance of Weigel into Chattanooga comes as the Ohio-based Speedway, the nation's fourth-largest operator of company-owned convenience and gasoline stores which entered Chattanooga about five years ago, continues to put up new stores.

Other convenience store chains with multiple stores in the Chattanooga market include Pilot Flying J, RaceWay, Mapco, Circle K and Harry's.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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