SC’s first Buc-ee’s gas station finally opened Monday. Gov. McMaster was there to welcome it

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A gathering of South Carolina’s governor, the newly-anointed state House speaker, a state senator, two county councilmen, a mayor and hundreds of members of the public might raise some eyebrows as to what, exactly, would draw all of these people together.

The opening of a gas station.

That’s exactly what happened Monday morning in Florence.

It’s not just any gas station, though. On Monday at 6 a.m., South Carolina’s first Buc-ee’s gas station opened at the corner of Interstate 95 and North Williston Road. Buc-ee’s is known for its award-winning clean restrooms, Texas barbecue, massive size (more than 100 fueling stations) and hospitality.

“This is not a gas station. It’s a destination,” House Speaker Murrell Smith, R-Sumter County, said at a ribbon cutting for Buc-ee’s.

The opening of Buc-ee’s was the culmination of years of work, including 18 months of construction since the groundbreaking in November 2020.

The gas station was originally planned to open by the end of 2021, but delays caused the opening to be pushed back six months.

“Everybody wants to come to South Carolina. Great weather. But the main thing we have is great people,” Gov. Henry McMaster said in an interview after the ribbon cutting.

At the time of the groundbreaking, South Carolina was still in the throes of COVID-19. The state had recovered slightly from a summer surge of infections in 2020 but was just a few weeks away from a deadly wave that would last almost all winter. McMaster, in a speech that day in 2020, noted how businesses like Buc-ee’s wanted to come to the state because the state “never shut down.” He brought that up again at the store’s opening a year and a half later.

“Back in the pandemic, others states were closing everybody down. We didn’t do that. We never did shut down. We didn’t have those mandates,” he said Monday. “A lot of states just piled on restrictions. We didn’t do that, and that’s made a noticeable difference.”

Smith and McMaster were joined by Florence County Council Chairman Willard Dorriety Jr.; Florence County Councilmen Rev. Waymon Mumford and Buddy Brand; Florence Mayor Teresa Myers Ervin; and State Sen. Mike Reichenbach, R-Florence.

The opening of Buc-ee’s marks the addition of what’s likely to be a major economic driver for Florence. The gas station created more than 300 jobs, all of which pay a minimum of $18 an hour and go up to nearly $30 an hour for managerial roles. Those jobs also include full benefits, such as three weeks of paid vacation, health insurance and a retirement savings account.

Buc-ee’s owner Beaver Applin said they had 6,000 applications from people wanting to work at the store.

“We do business in a lot of places, and I can’t say that I’ve had a better experience anywhere than right here in South Carolina,” Applin said. “Our people have told me that this was the best recruiting class that we’ve had — incredible employees. They’re doing a wonderful job, and so that just speaks volumes for the work ethic here in the area of Florence.”

Texas based Buc-ee’s is open in Florence. It is the first Buc-ee’s in South Carolina.
Texas based Buc-ee’s is open in Florence. It is the first Buc-ee’s in South Carolina.

Flooded with customers

The visitors to Buc-ee’s Monday morning weren’t just executives and politicians. Hundreds of people watched the ribbon cutting outdoors, ignoring the heat emanating from the concrete, while hundreds more wandered around inside.

There were seemingly as many first-time visitors to the gas station as there were longtime Buc-ee’s devotees. A young girl standing near the front of the crowd at the ribbon cutting wore a Buc-ee’s t-shirt and a Buc-ee’s bandana. And inside the store dozens of customers were wearing Buc-ee’s shirts, hats, even pajama pants.

Smith, the House speaker, was one of those repeat visitors, having gone to a Buc-ee’s in Florida when he took his children to Disney World. His children, even after one visit, were in love with the place.

“I quickly learned how expensive it is when you have two children,” he said with a laugh. “When I left the house this morning, my kids said, ‘Hey, are you going to the Buc-ee’s for the grand opening? Can we skip school and go here?’ And I told them, ‘Absolutely not. They don’t allow kids at the Buc-ee’s in Florence.’”

One of the Buc-ee’s devotees visiting Monday was Tamra Yanez of Williamsburg, Virginia. She drove to Florence Sunday and got a hotel room just so she could go to Buc-ee’s the next day with her family. Yanez said she first went to a Buc-ee’s in Texas seven years ago and fell in love but hasn’t been able to go since.

The Florence Buc-ee’s is now the closest location to her home — at a four-and-a-half-hour drive away.

“I just love it and everything, just everything, and they’re so nice at Buc-ee’s,” said Yanez, whose cart was full of Buc-ee’s clothes, Buc-ee’s cups and six flavors of fudge. She was already wearing a Buc-ee’s shirt that someone in a Buc-ee’s Facebook fan club got her when one of the stores opened in Florida.

Yanez was there with her husband, daughter and three grandchildren. She was perusing the store around 11 a.m. when a reporter spoke to her, but she said she had already been by earlier today so her family could try Buc-ee’s breakfast, which is served from 4 a.m. to 11 a.m.

“We got the brisket breakfast burrito. It’s delicious,” she said. She also got Buc-ee’s famed beaver nuggets, a sweet treat that looks like popcorn. “They are very good. I never tried them till today.”

As people made their way to the store, customers could be heard giving each other suggestions of what to try. One of the biggest recommendations was the kolaches (which come in more than a dozen varieties) and, of course, the barbecue.

“Quite frankly, opportunities for gratification are endless when you enter this wonderful and beautiful facility,” Brand, the county councilman, said.

More than just the gas station

Despite all the hype around the gas station, the business’s arrival did bring more than just food and fuel to Florence. Buc-ee’s shares its development site with an expansion of Francis Marion University, the school’s new Freshwater Ecology Research and Conference Center.

“When I think about what Buc-ee’s has brought here to our local area, I think about the fact that we have our community leaders working together, but also we have all the makings of a solid foundation that can elevate our city and our country and not only our state to a national level,” Florence Mayor Teresa Myers, an alumna of Francis Marion University, said at the groundbreaking in November 2020.

At the opening, McMaster echoed Myers’ sentiment.

“Francis Marion is going to be doing researching at 225 acres, will be teaching the young people something,” McMaster said at the ribbon cutting. “We’re looking out for the environment. ... When you have the economy and education and the environment all wrapped up in one package, that spells success.”