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Ryan Bakken, Forum Communications, Published January 13 2013

Crookston C-store wins more customers with taxi service

CROOKSTON, Minn. — Convenience stores are known, naturally, for the convenience of satisfying several needs in one stop. But the Ampride station here has taken product diversity to a new level.

It’s added taxi service.

It took some outside-the-box thinking by Wayne “Weiner” Melbye, the Ampride manager and a Crookston City Council member.

“You don’t usually put these two together, but then I started thinking that we already are open 24 hours a day, we have a car wash and we sell gas,” Melbye said. “I thought it might be a good fit.”

It has been for its nine-month run. The taxi business, run out of the convenience store’s office, started April 1, a few months after a conventional cab company folded. That left a void in this city of about 8,000.

“I thought it would be good PR for us, if nothing else,” Melbye said. “But, financially, we’re above board. Hopefully we’ll put enough away to get a new set of tires when we need them.”

Records show 1,107 fares in December, a daily average of 36. In-town rides have a flat rate of $6.

It’s a tag-team operation, as 12 Ampride employees, including Melbye, share driving duties for the 24/7 operation. Unlike in some cities, the taxi service does not receive a government subsidy.

“It’s getting busier, so we’re looking into getting a second cab,” Melbye said.

The taxi service’s fans include Carol Gregg, the director of Care & Share, a homeless shelter that also provides supportive services.

“A lot of folks we work with both inside and outside of the facility have limited transportation or no transportation and cab service fills that gap,” she said. “That’s especially the case during evening and weekend hours when the bus doesn’t run.”

It is an upgrade from the spotty cab service during her seven years in her position, she said.

“The joy of having the cab service out of Ampride is that it’s more reliable than some cab companies in the past,” she said. “It’s an established business and it’s open 24/7. That means that when you call, somebody will be there.

“The service has been very good, so I expect its popularity to continue.”

The rides typically are to work, shopping, medical appointments and a safe return at bar-closing time.

The cab service also has helped store sales, Melbye said.

When the designated cabbie isn’t picking up a fare, he/she is working inside the C-store, located next door to the American Crystal Sugar plant. Chores between runs include cleaning, stocking shelves and preparing food in the store’s deli.

Deli sales, especially during overnight hours, have soared because of the extra help.

“It seems like we’ve been a good fit,” Melbye said. “Knowing it’s an Ampride product has helped because they know the phone is going to be answered and they’re familiar with the Ampride name.”

And, sometimes, an incoming call serves two purposes.

Said Melbye: “Every once in awhile, someone will call for a ride and then ask, ‘Can you bring a sausage pizza with you?’”