As Americans, a building type we are familiar with is the convenience store. But how often do we really think about the building itself when we are filling up the car with fuel or
grabbing a snack and drink as we rush on to the next destination? The convenience store is a solution to our increasingly mobile lifestyle, especially in a state like Montana where our primary mode of transportation is a personal vehicle. In our practice we have witnessed an evolution of travel facilities over the past three decades. Initially these facilities served the basic purpose of fueling vehicles. Some stores might have offered a minimal amount of merchandise, but even the largest stores at that time can’t compare to today’s facilities. Today’s convenience stores, or c-stores, more closely represent a small grocery store with fuel islands, car washes and other amenities.
The variety of merchandise in today’s c-store has significantly changed the way we design the buildings. The building must have a robust electrical service and panel system to handle all the buildings complex electrical devices and fueling island system. Additional hot deli food merchandise as well as refrigerated and frozen merchandise vastly increases electrical demand. These same pieces of equipment also require specific and complicated plumbing supplies, drains and refrigeration systems. Stores have also expanded their variety of hot deli foods, requiring a full commercial kitchen facility. Fuel and sales systems require a building wide data network.
Well-lit sales areas provide a better shopping experience for customers than in the past. Merchandise is displayed in a highly organized system of gondolas and displays to attract the customer’s attention. The days of the service station clerk handing you a key to open the restroom door located around the side of the building are long gone. Today’s c-stores include generously sized restroom facilities with multiple fixtures and attractive, durable finishes. The restrooms must be inviting and well-lit while also able to withstand constant use and cleaning.
The location, quantity and size of fuel islands often drive the building design. Cashiers must have a direct visual line to fuel islands from all the sales positions, requiring large window areas. Entry vestibules are made as transparent as possible for security and visibility to the cashier, and act as an energy saving air lock to keep tempered air inside the building. All building and site elements are designed to comply with ADA standards.
Travel facilities have evolved over the years to meet the needs of our mobile lifestyles, offering more convenience and consumer options than ever before. It will be interesting to see how this industry evolves over the next thirty years.