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‘Clean Places, Friendly Faces’

Love’s Travel Stop opens in Ellsworth

It was a big deal when Ellsworth, Jewell and Hamilton County civic and business leaders gathered for the December 23 ribbon cutting at the Love’s Travel Stop at the junction of Interstate 35 and Highway 175 in Ellsworth.

Expecting only a dozen people, Love’s General Manager Ross Eveland reported to corporate headquarters that over 45 people attended the opening.

“They were like – Whoa!” said Eveland. “That was one of the biggest ribbon cuttings they’ve ever had.”

Considering the Oklahoma based company opened 47 new stores nationwide in 2016, the impressive Ellsworth turnout was noteworthy.

But is shouldn’t have been a surprise. When the business opened its doors on Dec. 15, it had been the result of a two-year collaborative effort by the company and many Hamilton County citizens.

Marv Norem

The story of Love’s Travel Stop in Ellsworth began over two years ago and ten miles down the road. The company had approached Story City to host a store but that community’s City Council rejected the offer.

“Story City first turned it down,” explained Marv Norem, a member of the Ellsworth City Council, Ellsworth Economic Development and Hamilton County Economic Development. “The next day, we were on the phone.”

Ellsworth community leaders immediately went to work to entice the travel center to its community, said Norem.

Norem, Ellsworth Mayor Greg Campbell, Ellsworth City Engineer Danny Anderson and other community members did their homework.

Norm Fandal of Midland Power Cooperative was instrumental in guiding community members through the proposal process. Sarah Thompson of Hamilton County Seed helped develop a business model in order to attract the Hardee’s restaurant to locate within the building. And Ellsworth community leaders developed a proposal that included daily traffic estimates as well as land and utility availability, said Norem.

Norm Fandal

Fortunately, the City of Ellsworth had already cleared one major hurdle. Fifteen years ago, the proposed building site had been zoned for commercial development so it had sewer, water and utilities already available, said City of Ellsworth Engineer, Danny Anderson.

“They saw that they didn’t have to spend any money and they said that sounded awful good,” said Norem.

Working in the community’s favor was access to one of Iowa’s busiest thoroughfares. The 2015 Iowa DOT report estimated a total of 24,400 vehicles travel by Exit 133 daily. The tally for the intersecting State Highway 175 was 5,000 vehicles.  Of that total, the Ellsworth committee identified an average of 200 commercial vehicles travelling the East/West road daily from the area feed mill and the bio-refinery plant in Jewell, said Norem.

“We just kept working,” said Norem of the effort to attract the company. “We didn’t know if we had a chance.”

After two months of research, work and lobbying, the decision finally came down to a visit by the company’s founder, Tom Love.

— Daily Freeman-Journal photo by Teresa Wood A customer places an order at the Hardees restaurant at the new Love’s Travel Center.

“He came and visited us and looked around,” said Norem.  “He liked what he saw and he said, ‘We’re going to Ellsworth.'”

In the end, the choice came down to two factors: One – Ellsworth’s interest and determination to bring the business to town; and Two – the desire of the Love’s corporation to locate in a welcoming rural community along the busy interstate.

While the family-owned company already had Iowa stores in Clive, Shelby and Atlantic along Interstate 80, it was looking to add to its presence along the busy Interstate 35 corridor, said Kealey Dorian, Love’s Travel Stop Communication Specialist. With a location farther north in Albert Lea, Minnesota, the company identified a lapse in service coverage.

“It’s a near perfect location,” said Dorian of the Ellsworth store. “A lot of professional drivers travel with us and there was a big gap. Interstate 35 is a very busy interstate.”

The central Iowa location was attractive to the company as it was close to the Des Moines/Ames metro community yet still in a rural area, explained Dorian.

“We like to build in a good community area,” said Dorian, noting that locating outside of an urban area allows the company to expand its service territory while keeping with its values.  “We are a really friendly company with a strong sense of family.”

She noted that Ellsworth’s proximity to the Iowa State University campus brings it a lot of commuter traffic.

Once the decision was made, Ellsworth City Engineer Danny Anderson set to work applying for grants and working with the Iowa Department of Roads on regulations and roadwork.

Employing 45 full and part time workers, the store opened its doors on Dec. 15, right before the busy holiday travel season.

Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores is based in Oklahoma City and was founded in 1964 by Tom Love. Over the years, the family-owned company has grown to more than 400 locations in 40 states. Each store offers 24/7 access for both the professional and recreational driver.

The 11,000 sq. ft. Ellsworth store features 14 fuel lanes, eight DEF lanes, CAT scales, WiFi, ATM, 100 trucking parking spaces, RV dumping service, RFID pump start, commercial truck and tire care, biodiesel and bulk propane.

Inside, the amenities include showers and spacious, clean restrooms. The retail area includes GPS and a wide variety of electronics, luggage, commercial truck parts and motor oil.  Also available are hardware, tools, GPS devices, televisions,  jewelry, toys, gifts, souvenirs, snacks and bottled and canned beverages.

“It’s a small, big box store,” said Dorian. “There is a little bit of everything.”

Expanding healthy food choices for travel

ers, Love’s offers daily prepared fresh fruit cups and Deli Express sandwiches in addition to foods prepared on the roller grill, explained manager Eveland. For liquid refreshment, the coffee bar offers eight coffee choices and teas. The Flavor Blast dispenser lets visitors custom-blend their own carbonated soft drinks.

The store features an attached Hardee’s restaurant which is also open 24/7. The restaurant features 100 percent Angus charbroiled hamburgers and offers diners dine-in, carry-out or drive-up service for breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacks.

Beginning on Jan. 25, the commercial tire care shop opened, said Tire Care and Facilities Manager Dustin Mogle.

With hundreds of daily visitors, the store’s 45 full and part time employees work to keep everything up to the company’s standards and follow its motto – “Clean Places, Friendly Faces.”

The new business has certainly put smiles on the faces of Ellsworth’s community leaders who view Love’s as a present and future blessing.

“There is not one person within the city limits who is not affected,” said Norem, who believes the store has already made an impact on the community.

With more jobs and more workers, the area is seeing an increase in its population, he said. With the increased labor force, the community sees an increase in consumer wages and consumer spending.

“We have more jobs and I don’t think Ellsworth or Jewell has an empty house in town,” said Norem.

And over the long term, Love’s Travel Stop will bring beneficial tax revenue to the community, explained Norem.

“Down the road, we will be able to do great things,” he said.

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