Beyond Cokes and Smokes: A Look at a Modern Convenience Store
Convenience stores typically elicit images of indifference, from food and drink to service and attitude; their appeal is mostly ease of use. But a small, inconspicuous station at the corner of Lyndale Avenue and 36th Street in Minneapolis called 36 Lyn Refuel Station has been working hard to break the stereotype.
“I want to have great offerings where people don’t feel guilty about making a purchase at a gas station.”
“I want to have great offerings where people don’t feel guilty about making a purchase at a gas station,” says owner Lonnie McQuirter. Customers today care more about what they put into their bodies and the environment and about where products are sourced, he says. “We sell products that we stand by.”
36 Lyn isn’t new—McQuirter opened it in 2005—but he’s spent years curating its offerings and reputation to craft a business that broke the indifference mold. “Real satisfaction is not in profits,” he says. “There’s a million easier ways to make a living, but … I like being able to meet the needs of my customers, give directions, and provide value. It may not be as glamorous or sexy as other industries, but I’ve grown to appreciate its importance to communities.”
Half of the products on 36 Lyn’s tidy shelves are locally sourced and organic. Customers can buy items like Cry Baby Craig’s Hot Sauce, Thomasina’s Cashew Brittle, prepared food from Afro Deli, and coffee from Big Watt, Wesley Andrews, and Peace Coffee.
“When we were first approached almost 10 years ago about having our organic, bike-delivered coffee served in a BP station, we were skeptical,” says Peace Coffee’s Kyle Feldman. “But all it took was one conversation with Lonnie to realize that our brand would be in very safe hands. He is a visionary, a community servant, and a steward of a more holistic way of doing business.”
In 2021, 36 Lyn will quit selling BP gas and affiliate with Minnoco, a Little Canada-based gasoline wholesaler designed for independent owners. “With 150,000 convenience stores in the U.S.,” McQuirter says, “I need to do my best not only to operate well, but also to help consumers differentiate 36 Lyn from the crowd.”
Read more from this issue
This story appears in the Feb./March 2021 issue with the title “Beyond Cokes and Smokes.”