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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published September 27 2013

A big convenience: Travel Plaza offers ‘everything’ from pedicures to coveralls

TIOGA, N.D. – If you stop at a Farmers Union convenience store, you probably expect to get gas, maybe some work gloves and some coffee.

At the new Travel Plaza in Tioga, you can find the basics, plus get a pedicure, buy fire-resistant coveralls and a sit-down meal of barbecued ribs.

The 40,000-square-foot Farmers Union Oil of Stanley and Tioga opened this summer.

“We’re trying to be a one-stop shop,” said assistant manager TJ Cornett. “Basically anything you can think of, you can do it here.”

The center is the Tioga counterpart to the Stanley Cenex store, known as Bakken Central, which also serves home-cooked meals and carries a similar selection of items, but doesn’t have much more room to grow.

“We’ve busted our seams down there,” said operations manager John Knox.

For the Tioga location, five years of discussion went into planning what to include in the travel plaza, said Knox, who believes it’s the largest convenience store in the state and likely the region.

“I’ve never seen anything this big and elaborate,” Knox said.

Food is a major draw for the center, with everything from grab-and-go sandwiches, grocery and deli items and comfort food specials prepared in the 3,000-square-foot kitchen.

“When we have ribs or brisket, we have people lined up like crazy,” Cornett said.

Ron Stoddard of Utah, who works in the oilfield on a hydraulic fracturing crew, said the bus that transports workers stops at the center almost daily so they can pick up food before heading to the job site.

The plaza has 5,000 square feet dedicated to clothing, but it’s not all Carhartt and steel-toed boots. It also has a large selection of women’s clothing.

“People come in and the first thing they say is ‘Wow,’” said employee Peggy Fleming, adding that it’s currently the only place to buy women’s clothing in Tioga.

It may be the closest thing to a big-box store in Tioga. By comparison, the Wal-Mart super center in Williston is 215,000 square feet.

But the Tioga Travel Plaza also has a business center and a conference room that the public can rent for meetings or other events.

A salon is so busy with both men and women that Knox said they’re already thinking about adding a second beautician.

The store also carries a large selection of hardware and farm items.

Farmers Union Oil held two job fairs to find enough workers to run the huge store, and is constantly hiring. Of the 80 employees, about 10 are from North Dakota and the rest are from all over, Knox said.

“We couldn’t do the things we do without the good staff,” Knox said.

The new location also has room to expand in the future.

“It’s still growing,” Knox said.