What’s not to love? It’s big. It’s shiny. It’s got gas, roast beef, gourmet coffee and more. Lot’s more.
Love’s is open in Bastian.
The parking lot was full and cashiers stayed busy Wednesday after the store opened one day early to help the community and customers in the path of Hurricane Florence. Teams worked around the clock to make sure the store was stocked with fuel, food and supplies.
“It’s been busy, but fantastic,” said Terri Andrews, manger of the Arby’s inside the travel center.
“It’s been wonderful,” said Dustin Aker, who manages the Love’s side of the business. He said employees were surprised to learn on Tuesday that the store would open a day early, “but this morning, we were ready. It’s going to change the entire landscape of the county.”
Local leaders hope Aker is right and that Love’s will be a catalyst for economic growth at Exit 58 and for Bland County.
"We are very excited to see Love's, and the adjoining Arby's, open for business! This is a major step in the county's initiative to develop the interstate exits as we pursue opportunities to attract new investments in the county as well as grow our existing businesses,” said Adam Kidd, chairman of the Bland County Board of Supervisors. “It is our hope that further development will take place along the interstate corridor, and throughout the county, to provide good paying jobs and opportunities for individuals and families here in Bland County."
The more than 10,000-square-foot travel center is open 24/7 and is the 11th Love’s location in Virginia. The location brings 65 new jobs to Bland County. Professional drivers can also take advantage of 51 truck parking spots, seven showers and laundry facilities.
On Wednesday, Love’s attracted travelers and people heading north to avoid the hurricane’s path. But it also drew a lot of local folks wanting to check out the travel center.
Brenda Blankenship and Ruth Collins enjoyed turkey sandwiches inside Arby’s. Blankenship enjoyed the roast turkey sandwich, while Ruth selected the grand turkey sandwich.
“We thought we’d try it,” Blankenship said.
“And, of course, we needed gas,” Collins added. “The food is really good.”
She hopes motorists will stop at Love’s and explore Bland County a bit.
“They might want to come back and visit,” she said, adding that Love’s also means more tax money to help the county’s infrastructure and schools.
The two friends said that Love’s wide variety of merchandise will save them some trips into Wytheville. From their homes in the No Business area of the county to Wytheville is a 40-minute trip. Love’s is only 20 minutes away.
Variety is the key word there. Inside the center, travelers and locals can find a little bit of everything, including cell phone accessories, clothing, snacks, auto parts, safety vests, clothing, batteries, backpacks, coolers, fresh fruit and veggies, and more. There are also unexpected items such as metal Gladiator, Trojan and Centurion helmets.
“We sell a lot of them,” Love’s employee Jennifer Smith said. “Men like them, believe it or not.”
Not all opening-day customers were local. Some, like Mark and Kim Richesson of Morehead City, North Carolina, were fleeing Hurricane Florence. Mark, a Marine stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, and Kim, a social worker, were traveling with their daughter, Abby, two cats and their dog.
The family lifted their furniture onto cinder blocks, removed everything from their walls, packed up important photos and documents and hit the highway to ride out the storm with family in Ohio.
“It’s OK,” she said. “It’s only belongings, and it makes you appreciate everything you have.”
The Richessons do not know when they will head south on Interstate 77 to return to Morehead City. The storm is expected to strike the North Carolina coast Friday.
“We are fortunate we can leave for Ohio, where we have family excited to see us,” Kim Richesson said.
As for why they stopped at Love’s, Richesson credited the 175-foot-tall Love’s sign that towers above the highway.
“We needed gas and saw the big sign,” she said. “The sign is what did it.”
The Love’s project has been a long time coming to Bland County. Love’s officials watched the Bastian property for eight years, but lease agreements kept the company from pursing it. Finally, in 2013, a pathway opened for Love’s to begin the process of purchasing the land.
But even that took a while, and when the company finally made an offer on the site, competitor Circle K tried to block the million-dollar sale, saying the lease it had with property owner Seldon Stowers for the Circle K in Bland barred him from selling the Bastian property to Love’s. A judge ruled in Love’s favor in June 2016.
Now, more than two years later, the Bastian Love’s is ready for business.
To reach Millie Rothrock, call 228-6611, ext. 35, or email email@example.com.