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Big Sioux Travel Plaza sold to national chain

Pilot Flying J bought the Big Sioux Travel Plaza at the intersection of Interstate 29 and 32nd Avenue South in Grand Forks, the giant chain of truck stops and travel centers announced Wednesday.

Pilot Flying J logo

Pilot Flying J bought the Big Sioux Travel Plaza at the intersection of Interstate 29 and 32nd Avenue South in Grand Forks, the giant chain of truck stops and travel centers announced Wednesday.

It brings to a close the use of the Big Sioux name on a truck stop owned by the Spicer family in the city dating back a quarter century.

But the name, and the carved wooden chiefs inside and out, will remain in a smaller way.

"We actually are going to keep the Big Sioux name, because it will (still) be the Big Sioux Café," said Brad Spicer, president of Spicer Inc. "We are going to lease that back for five years."

Family operation

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Other than the restaurant, his family won't be involved in the truck stop's operation. Spicer Trucking, also based at the same site at 4401 32nd Ave. S., will be located elsewhere in town but will continue operating, Spicer said.

Brad and his brothers, Bruce, Mark and Cliff, built the truck stop, convenience store and restaurant in 1994. It opened in April 1995.

His family first bought the Big Sioux truck stop and café on Gateway Drive and I-29 in 1983, which they sold in 2003 to Archie Simonson.

Spicer said he bought the first carved wooden Indian chief that sat outside the first store in 1984 and the second in 1994 for the new plaza.

"They were made in Wisconsin by the Chippewa tribe and we bought them right outside of the Dells," he said.

But the Pilot Flying J name will be first on the marquee.

Sale details

Terms of the sale weren't announced. But the 8.92 acres of parking lot and building were assessed at about $3.8 million in "true and full value" by the city this year.

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According to the sale information advertised by Coldwell Banker Commercial in Fargo, which listed the property for $6.8 million, the Big Sioux sold 4.1 million gallons of diesel fuel and nearly 1 million gallons of gasoline in 2009. The restaurant, open 24/7, did $2.1 million in sales that year, or nearly $6,000 a day.

Pilot Flying J announced Wednesday it will renovate the center, adding eight diesel fueling stations and two RV fueling islands to the current eight islands, which include four diesel islands.

Pilot merged with Flying J in 2010, and the new conglomerate based in Knoxville, Tenn., says it's the largest operator of travel centers and travel plazas in the United States and Canada, with 550 stores serving 1.3 million customers daily.

Besides the Grand Forks acquisition, Pilot Flying J announced Wednesday the purchase of two new sites in Florida, as well as locations in Texas, North Carolina and West Virginia.

There is a Pilot Flying J site in Fargo on I-29 and 32nd Avenue South, and two others in North Dakota besides the new Grand Forks store, said company spokeswoman Amanda Shell.

'Local business'

Chuck Robinson, general manager of the Grand Forks store, said the Subway restaurant will remain, while the truckers' store on the west side and the convenience store on the east side will offer more selection.

"We believe our familiar Pilot sign will be a welcome sight for interstate travelers and professional drivers," Robinson said in a news release.

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"It was a deal we couldn't refuse," Spicer said Wednesday. "But we are a family operation, which makes it even tougher to part ways because we enjoyed being in the business. The petroleum business is changing. Like everything else, it's becoming more of a corporate deal."

His family still will be involved in local ventures, including trucking, and the Spicers plan to develop the 15 acres they still own adjacent to the travel plaza.

"We definitely are going to miss it and we appreciate all the customers we have," Spicer said. "Local business was a big part of our business, not like any other truck stop. We drew a lot of local business to the truck stop and café."

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send email to slee@gfherald.com .

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