Travel Tuesday: Wally’s — Is the Mega Gas Station Better than Buc-ee’s?
A few months back, I shared my experience visiting a Buc-ee’s for the first time when on a road trip to Florida. Well, this past weekend, my wife and I headed up to Chicago for C2E2. Along the way, we noticed a large gas station called Wally’s, which seemed to share some traits with the increasingly popular Texas-based Buc-ee’s. So, when we were on our way back home, I made a point to stop in Pontiac, Illinois to check out this intriguing destination for myself and see how it compared.
The first reason that I thought that Wally’s was attempting to imitate the Buc-ee’s playbook was the number of pumps it had. While I didn’t get a count, there were two massive islands of pumps available — plus some electric vehicle chargers. In other words, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a spot.
After filling up and moving to a proper parking spot, we headed inside. First, while much larger than your typical gas station convenience store, it didn’t quite reach the near supermarket size of Buc-ee’s that we experienced in Calhoun, Georgia. Nevertheless, there were plenty of different features packed into the place, including some that once again reminded me of that other mega station.
For example, in the center of the shop was a stand that sold various barbecue sandwiches, such as brisket and pulled pork — or should I say they would have had our visit not been at 5:30 a.m. Behind that stand was what seemed to be a deli as well as an ice cream stand in case you wanted other food options. And how could I forget that there’s also a popcorn spot, considering that the scent was literally the first thing we noticed once past the doors?
In addition to these signature options, Wally’s also had a wide selection of their own branded jerkies as well as some fudge (although I didn’t notice a dedicated fudge stand like one we encountered at Buc-ee’s). Of course, there were also plenty of beverages and other packaged snacks to pick from per usual.
So what about the bathrooms at Wally’s? After all, a billboard for Buc-ee’s declared “You’ve got to pee it believe it” — could this midwest competitor match up? According to their site, the women’s room at Wally’s has 20 stalls, while the men’s room has a similar number of utilities split between standing and sitting accommodations (wasn’t that a super classy way to say urinals and stalls?). Going off of my memory, I will say that the doors at Buc-ee’s seemed to go down a bit further than at Wally’s, although I think I preferred the latter’s layout. In any case, the restrooms at each location were large and clean, which is basically what you want from a road trip pit stop.
If you’ll recall, while at Buc-ee’s, I decided to purchase a pair of Christmas-themed sweatpants from their collection of mascot-emblazoned items. Considering how much I loved the cartoon gang shown on the wall at Wally’s, I would have done the same there… had this been an option. Furthermore, I was very disappointed to see that the one shirt I really liked was out of stock, forcing me to leave empty-handed.
As for other differences between Wally’s and Buc-ees’s, well, one has a bear and one has a beaver. Also, I will say that Buc-ee’s billboard game was much stronger, both in terms of messaging and frequency. Other than that, while I’m sure frequent visitors and fans will pick up on some differentiating points, I have to say they seem pretty comparable.
Upon returning home, I was surprised to learn that Wally’s only has two locations: the one we went to in Pontiac as well as another we passed in Fenton, Missouri. In other words, they’re clearly no real threat to Buc-ee’s as the beaver continues to expand — including opening a location here in Springfield soon. On that note, though, I do wonder if a showdown of sorts could be brewing if Buc-ee’s intends to expand north and/or Wally’s wants to head south.
Overall, there are several silly things I could say about why I prefer one of these two stations. However, the truth is that both are pretty darn awesome and motorists are lucky to have them. So, whether you end up at a Buc-ee’s or a Wally’s, I think you’ll be in good hands.