The 7–Eleven convenience store and gas station, located at 2143 Jefferson Davis Highway, will close Tuesday to make way for extensive roadway improvements near the Stafford County Courthouse.
Rebekah Cousins, who has been the store’s franchisee for the last 15 years, says the loss of the store will impact her nine employees and a large number of regular customers.
“Having this store has been kind of like an extended family for me,” said Cousins. “I’m going to miss the customers who have been coming here for years.”
Workers will soon demolish several shops, buildings and vacant homes along the busy corridor—including the convenience store—which is owned by Dallas-based 7–Eleven Inc. The demolitions are necessary to prepare for an $18.2 million road-widening project scheduled to begin next year.
After the buildings are razed, underground utilities will be installed, beginning in the fall. Road widening will begin in spring 2021, and will take a year to 18 months to complete.
Altogether, the county acquired 29 parcels in the vicinity of the courthouse to make room for the roadway expansion.
Cousins was first informed that her store would be coming down last spring, and now the closure is just two days away.
“My biggest concern is my employees,” said Cousins. “They are like a family, and I’m not able to give them another job.”
Most of Cousin’s employees live nearby and many of them walk to and from work.
Rita Duvall of Stafford has worked at the 7–Eleven for five and a half years.
“When Rebekah told us it was closing, we were just shocked,” said Duvall. “It’s going to be hard.”
The former High’s convenience store became a 7–Eleven in the 1970s. Since then, it has become a local favorite for nearby county workers, attorneys and judges, emergency responders, hospital workers and commuters, who rely on it for a quick snack, a cold drink or a gasoline fill-up.
Phil Gibbs, a retired contractor, has been a regular customer for 40 years. Since retiring, Gibbs has come to the store every day to meet and talk with old friends.
“We sit around in the parking lot and talk,” said Gibbs. “It’s sad that it’s closing. This is all I have to do.”
Cousins said the store’s merchandise, valued at $85,000, must all be sold before the doors are officially closed.
As the store’s franchisee, Cousins said she’s responsible for selling everything inside and has already reduced prices on toys, auto supplies, grocery items and other items to move them out quickly, giving customers one final bargain.
“Someone bought all the toys already,” Cousins said.
Cousins said after receiving notification of the store’s closing, her supplier stopped providing shipments of goods to replenish her shelves.
“There’s going to be some upset customers when I don’t have their 20-ounce Mountain Dews or Pepsis, or their favorite cigarettes,” Cousins said earlier this month. “That’s going to be a little shocking for the morning commuters.”
On a recent Monday, Patrick Beuchert of Stafford was served a hotdog in a pizza box.
“We’ve been coming here for years. I hate to see it go,” said Beuchert. “This store reminds me of the county in the old days.”
Cousins said she was offered a management position at 7–Elevens in Washington, D.C., as well as Pittsburgh, but she’s not interested in either of the offers. A new 7–Eleven is being considered nearby, but it’s in the very early planning stages. Cousins may not even be considered for the manager job, and she does not have the money to buy the new franchise.
Steve Jones, vice president of leasing and sales for the Silver Cos., said the new 7–Eleven will be located near Hospital Center Boulevard and U.S. 1. Jones said construction of the new store will begin next spring, but added the deal has not been finalized.
Cousins hopes the county will help facilitate some type of financial relief for her and her employees as a result of the expenses she expects to incur as a result of the store’s closure.
Alex Owsiak, Stafford’s transportation program manager, said the county is working out a deal with 7–Eleven’s corporate office regarding a settlement for Cousins’ franchise.
In addition to the U.S. 1 widening, several other improvements will be added during the same project, including widening eastbound Courthouse Road to provide dedicated left-turn, right-turn and through lanes.
Westbound Courthouse Road will not be widened, but one of its eastbound lanes will be converted into a dedicated left-turn lane, while the existing left-turn and through lanes will be for through traffic only.
When the road-widening is completed, U.S. 1 will be a four–lane divided highway with dedicated turn lanes between Bells Hill and Hope roads and Stafford Hospital. The north and southbound lanes will be divided by a center concrete median.
When the work is done, only a handful of longtime merchants will remain in the courthouse area.
Gail Gandy, owner of Gail’s Hair Care at 2163 Jefferson Davis Highway, has operated her business near the courthouse for over 40 years.
Gandy is waiting to see what impact the road-widening will have.
“My lease is up next March,” said Gandy. “I’ll make a decision then.”