Dozens of Des Moines residents, many of them Drake students, gathered at the Kum & Go on University Avenue for its grand reopening Aug. 27.
The gas station began renovations last spring when it was torn down and rebuilt completely, according to General Manager Billy Wiggins.
“It’s been a six-month process,” Wiggins said. “I’d been at Keo Way actually, real close to this area. I was the assistant manager there for ten months and I just came over this way. I just applied and I told them my background and my history of where I’d worked, and they took me in because this is a good family-owned company, and they’ve treated me like family.”
Assistant Manager Erica Sholley said the old store was not equipped to keep up with the community’s needs.
“We needed it. I think this area needed it, especially with Drake,” Sholley said. “They’re expanding a lot this way, and I think the previous store was so small, it was hard to accommodate everybody’s needs. Now we have a bigger kitchen, seating area, so I’m excited for it.”
With the school year starting for Drake across the street, Sholley said it was an ideal time for the new store to open.
“The other Kum & Go down the street isn’t as big, it doesn’t have nearly as much as we do, so with the amount of people starting to come, especially with school starting, I think this is what the area needed,” Sholley said.
Sholley is the last remaining employee from the old store; after building the new store, she said they started over with an almost entirely new staff.
“It’s a whole new team. I’m the only one back from the original team, so a lot of them are new with Kum & Go altogether, so it’s going to be exciting to build a team and get a store going that’s going to be good for this community,” Sholley said. “It’s exciting, I’m so happy.”
Wiggins said he agreed that building a new store benefits the community.
“I think it’s beautiful and I think it’s great for this community and I’m glad I’m even part of this community and I have the opportunity to help this community grow,” Wiggins said. “I think this is a great, great store and I think it’s going to help make a big change in the Drake area.”
Drake student Emilyn Crabbe said that she will personally benefit from the new Kum & Go.
“I feel like I always drive really far to go get gas, but now I won’t have to do that because this is right here,” Crabbe said. “It’s silly because there was always a Kum & Go here, but it wasn’t as nice to go to and it felt like the gas pumps never worked, but now I trust that they will work and I’m excited.”
Crabbe, who lives close to campus, said she was excited to see the building process over the summer.
“We’ve been here all summer so we’ve seen it being built over the whole summer now. We were pumped, we were counting down the days,” Crabbe said. “I think people get sick of the C-store after a while, and this is nice, this is like the C-store on steroids.”
Sholley said the COVID-19 pandemic did not delay the reopening of the Kum & Go.
“We didn’t suffer any from that. I don’t know about the construction or anything, but it didn’t seem to prolong it,” Sholley said. “Our only thing now is just keeping customers safe. Since there’s a city mandate now, customers have to wear masks. Customers have to keep their distance. Today it was kind of hard, because we had like 100 people in here at the same time, but everyone had masks on, so that was good.”
According to Sholley, around 100 people arrived early this morning and waited for the grand reopening, even doing a countdown as the doors were about to open.
“It was amazing. We knew it was going to be a big turnout, but we didn’t know people were going to be here a half hour before we were,” Sholley said. “I think there was a lot of publicity behind it, it was a good turnout. We loved it. We’re trying to pull up security footage of everyone waiting outside, it was great.”
Sholley said Drake students comprise a lot of Kum & Go’s business.
“Probably about 80 percent of our customers [are Drake students],” Sholley said. “We were a high-volume store before we rebuilt, and that was without a seating area, without selling liquor, without a full kitchen. So now that we’re doing more, college kids want their beer and their wine, so I think that’s going to draw more of them that typically wouldn’t come. We’re also 24 hours and we’re the only one in the area that’s 24 hours, so I think that helps. I love this area, everybody’s fun.”
There are a number of reasons for the excitement surrounding Kum & Go, according to Sholley.
“It’s a Des Moines-based company. It’s a good environment. It’s different from other convenience stores,” Sholley said. “We like to have fun with our customers, we’re constantly trying to improve and do things to help our customers out.”
Sholley said both corporate and the store itself make an effort to give back to the community.
“We do things for our community, and I think that’s a huge thing,” Sholley said. “Any of our food in the kitchen that gets wasted gets donated to churches, homeless shelters. The owners of Kum & Go, they just donated $10,000 for the storm we just had. So the company itself does a lot for the community, but then each store does things for their own community. I think that helps a lot, knowing we’re out here helping them so then they return the favor.”
As an employee, Sholley said she feels that Kum & Go is set apart from competitors because the owners genuinely care for their employees and community.
“Corporate itself, the owners of it, they’re just tremendous people,” Sholley said. “They’re the only ones I know that give so much back to the community, as they do for their staff. They take good care of us. With COVID-19, they gave us hazard pay. I think as much as they do for us, that’s what makes people want to stay. They’re willing to give if we’re willing to put in the work. That’s what makes it easy to stay, and we have fun people who work here, so it’s great.”