Family Hopes To Revive Chain of Roadside Stores
EASTMAN, Ga. (AP) _ Stuckey’s first roadside shop stands empty here, one of its plate-glass windows broken, a symbol of the decline of a chain of stores that caters to highway travelers from coast to coast.
But W.S. Stuckey Jr., a former Georgia congressman and son of the chain’s founder, is confident he can reverse the decline now that his family is again involved in Stuckey’s operation.
W.S. Stuckey started the business during the 1930s with a roadside stand in Eastman that sold pecans and later candies made by his wife, Ethel. By the early 1970s, there were more than 350 Stuckey’s shops on the nation’s major highways.
Easily recognized by their teal-blue tile roofs, the shops provided travelers with gasoline, gifts, food and the Stuckey family’s famous pecan log rolls. Some were owned by the Stuckey family, but most belonged to people who had bought franchises.
The chain began to slide with the spread of fast-food chains and self- service gasoline, the family says. There now are only about 175 stores.
″We didn’t keep up with competition,″ said Frank Stuckey, a brother of the founder. ″Food especially, I think, was the downfall. Our snackbars really never had a good fast-food menu like Hardee’s, Waffle House or McDonald’s.″
Pet Inc., which purchased Stuckey’s from the family in 1964 for $15 million, sold the franchise operations for about 100 shops in April to Stuckey Corp. of Washington, D.C., which is headed by the W.S. Stuckey Jr. Pet sold Stuckey’s Eastman candy plant to Standard Candy Co. of Nashville.
Now that the family is back in the roadside business, the 49-year-old Stuckey said he plans to emphasize clean restrooms and good food in his efforts to revive it.
″We’re enthusiastic,″ he said. ″It was a part of my life. I’m looking forward to it.″ In his efforts to pump new life into the chain, Stuckey said he will seek help from a small, dedicated core of franchise holders who have held on despite the hard times.
″There’s a lot of talent we can call on,″ he said. ″These people really want to see it back as a thriving corporation. I’m looking to provide a service for these people and have a quality product in Stuckey’s.″
Pet spokesman Les Landes said the Stuckey sales were the last in a series of transactions aimed at reducing Pet’s retail operations. Pet, which took a $10.5 million after-tax writeoff for discontinuing the Stuckey operations, will concentrate on specialty convenience foods, Landes said.
James W. Spradley, who was president of Stuckey’s from 1969 to 1981, will supervise operations at the Eastman candy plant. His son, James W. Spradley Jr., is president of Standard Candy.
The senior Spradley said Standard has a four-year agreement with Stuckey Corp. to supply candies for its roadside shops, but also will produce candies under its own label for other markets.
″You’ve really got two famous companies noted for quality candies that have come together,″ he said. ″This gives us an opportunity for a much broader line.″
Stuckey, a five-term congressman from Georgia’s 8th District who remained in Washington after his retirement from Congress, said his family owns about 50 franchises and may purchase more.
″Hopefully, we’ll expand Stuckey’s and get back to the basics,″ he said.
″We’re looking into bringing it back in with emphasis on clean restrooms, food service and then maybe we’ll ... sell some gas,″ said Stuckey, who also owns Interstate Dairy Queen Corp., which sells Dairy Queen franchises on the nation’s interstates.
Stuckey’s father started the business during the Depression by selling pecans from an old car converted into a truck. In 1936, he opened a roadside stand in Eastman in middle Georgia, and by 1953, his operation had grown to 29 stores throughout the Southeast.
The senior Stuckey remained active in the family’s franchised stores until his death in 1977.
Gregory W. Griffith, secretary-treasurer of Stuckey’s Corp., acknowledged the company faces a tough task in revitalizing the chain.
″The battle is one of trying to determine what the image really is,″ he said. ″There’s a lot of competition out there.″
On the positive side, the surviving franchises are strong and occupy some of the best locations on the interstates, Griffith said.
″We’re going to go from there and expand,″ he said. ″We are very optimistic.″