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Colorado News —
June 2021

Columnist — Joyce Trent

DENVER — Russell Huff's journey through the pandemic offers a powerful lesson in how to survive a crisis against all odds.

He did it with perseverance, adaptability and the character that inspires staff loyalty.

Eighteen of the nineteen HJB dba Russell's Convenience and Xpress stores are located in buildings in metro areas where sales dropped 80 percent. Office employees that made up much of his clientele were sent home to work.

At the same time civil unrest — that sometimes turned violent — kept other customers from venturing downtown in 2020. They were replaced by the homeless whose cash was limited.

Colorado flag

Huff didn't lie down. He got aggressive. He talked to the mayor and state legislators. He consulted with his bank.

At the outset he dipped into his own pocket to pay most employees. His executive staff went without pay for five months. He said he expected they would quit but "They didn't. They said they had faith in me."

Eventually he got funding from the Payroll Protection programs and Employee Retention Credit and "that saved my business." It stopped the drain from his own funds to pay people.

As a result he was able to keep 16 of the office building stores open.

Despite his hard work, he thought he would be out of business by September. It didn't happen. He sought other loan and assistance programs, but was foiled because his income level was too high before the virus hit. He is hoping last year's income will show that he needs it.

Huff had been set to retire last year and had buyers lined up. Then the COVID-19 crisis hit and the buyers backed off, saying they did not know how to steer the company through the crisis.

He tried many ways of adapting. In Los Angeles, especially hard-hit, he saw sales plummet from $3,000 to $5,000 a day to $200 at one point. He used Uber to make deliveries. He got all of nine orders.

Where feasible, he is converting some stores to self-service.

The future also holds potential loss as the state of Colorado is planning to keep 20 to 30 percent of its work force in the metro area working from home. Huff said the state is also reducing the size of some buildings by a million square feet.

Retirement is now a few years off. But he said he won't give up, given the government's financial help and the loyalty of his staff.

DENVER — Pester Marketing dba Alta Convenience has been sold to Fortress Investment Group LLC and a subsidiary of Phillips 66 Company.

The transaction follows a mind-boggling series of deals involving the 65-year-old Pester Marketing, and, more recently, Alta Corporation.

The ownership group first acquired Pester's 47 company-owned stores in May 2016 as a spinoff from World Fuel Services Corp. World Fuel had acquired Pester in 2015 but retained the non-company-owned stores in the 2016 deal.

In 2018, Pester bought out Western Convenience, increasing the number of stores under its banner to 119 locations in Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, Kansas and Washington state.

Through it all, Richard Spresser has stayed at the helm and will continue to do so.

Pester, headquartered in Denver, has been in the petroleum marketing and convenience store retail business for sixty-five years, operating in the Rocky Mountains, Southwest and Midwest.

Pester's Alta has been very community-minded. Last year it raised $205,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Of that amount, ten stores in Canon City outperformed all others in the state with contributions totaling $70,932.

Fortress Investment Group is a diversified global investment manager of $49.9 billion in assets. Based in New York, the firm manages the assets on behalf of about 1,800 institutions and private investors worldwide.

In 2014, Fortress acquired United Oil Co., of Gardena, Calif., which operated more than 130 sites in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas. United was re-named United Pacific when it acquired 251 c-stores from Pacific Convenience & Fuels and moved its headquarters to Long Beach.

Phillips 66 is a diversified energy manufacturing and logistics company. Its U.S. marketing business supplies gasoline under Phillips 66, 76 and Conoco brands for 7,500 outlets.

DENVER — Choice Market has opened its fourth location, its largest and most hi-tech.

The 5,000-square-foot convenience store is in an apartment building in what is called The Golden Triangle, one of the highest-density residential neighborhoods in Denver. It also is near a hospital. The site was chosen, said CEO Mike Fogarty, because although the area has so many people it "lacks amenities and services."

The new facility offers frictionless technology, allowing customers to download an app, enter how they want to pay, and scan a specific Choice Market app. They then can enter the store, shop with their selections automatically added to their bill, and leave without checking out.

It works with many ceiling cameras and shelf sensors and sends an e-receipt to the shopper's phone at the end.

There are a wide variety of products available: groceries, craft beer, hot and cold meals to go, snacks, and breakfast and lunch items. For those who like to linger there is an ice cream shop and a full coffee bar. The store opens at 7 a.m. and closes at 11 p.m. Eventually it will operate 24/7.

Fogarty, who entered the scene in 2017, now has his eye on Boulder and Arvada for expansion.

DENVER — Cobblestone Auto Spa plans a major expansion in Colorado.

The Phoenix-based car wash currently has five locations in the state. Two more are under construction and 11 are planned for opening in the next two years.

"Bolstering Cobblestone's portfolio in this strategic market is a significant milestone for the company," said Tuck Bettin, CEO.

The company has maintained majority ownership while gaining financial support from private equity partner Access Holdings and a six-member bank group.

THORNTON — A woman apparently went too far to try to get her car clean at a car wash. She claims it not only didn't work, but she was rear-ended in the effort.

Irma Romero blames the Bubble Time Express Carwash for $2,500 in damages her car sustained on what she says was a defective track.

It all started because she didn't think her car got clean. She should have left it at that and complained because she lost control on the track the first time. Her wheels were wobbling during the soap cycle. But she decided to go back for another try.

This time she said she was rear-ended by a vehicle driven by Lupe Lopez. Lopez also claimed the track was not right, causing her to lose control and ram Romero's vehicle twice.

Romero called the Denver TV Channel 7 to complain when she felt she didn't get satisfaction from management. They said they sent a station vehicle through with no problem. And Bubble Time Vice President Matthew Munoz told the station he tried to help her but she didn't comply with requests to send estimates of the damage to further the investigation. He also said 600 cars were washed that day and no one but the two women complained about the equipment.

COLORADO SPRINGS — After a robber was thwarted by a convenience store clerk making a bee-line for the back door, he was not about to leave without some money. He robbed the next customer who came in.

The robbery started out as usual, when a man pulled a gun on the clerk at a 7-Eleven and demanded he open the cash register. Instead the fleet-footed clerk escaped to the back of the store and locked himself in.

Unfortunately, a customer entered the store and had to surrender his cash.

Police are looking for the robber.

Originally published in the June 2021 issue of the O&A Marketing News.
Copyright 2021 by KAL Publications Inc.

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