The Sheetz store opened in Westminster July 19, 2018.
They came by the dozens, filling the parking lot of the gas and convenience store at 1023 Baltimore Blvd., with vehicles spilling over into the straw strewn lot next door for parking. By 10:30 a.m. Thursday, more than 50 people stood crowded around the store entrance, a festival atmosphere pervading the grand opening of the latest Sheetz location.
The chain of more than 570 stores, based out of Altoona, Pennsylvania, certainly has some devoted fans.
“They are Sheetz freaks,” said the Sheetz manager Samantha Haller, who alone had remained inside during the opening ceremony. “I have to make sure we have food ready for them. We sell a crazy amount of hot dogs.”
Haller regularly works in a store in Frederick, but said it is company practice to bring in an experienced manager to help with the launch of a new location.
“I’ve been to a couple, in West Virginia, Frederick,” she said. “It’s a huge turnout today. This is probably the biggest turnout I’ve ever seen.”
It has been a while, after all, since Westminster had a Sheetz. An East Main Street location, in operation since the 1980s, according to Sheetz Assistant Vice President of Brand Strategies Ryan Sheetz, was shuttered in 2016 in part due to an increase in criminal activity at the store, including robberies of the location.
“If anything is going down, good or bad, they are probably going to show up at Sheetz, because we are open 24/7 and we are just so busy,” he said. “A lot of that unfortunate stuff was happening in the community and was unfortunately coming to our door.”
But the process of opening the new Sheetz location actually began as early as 2015, driven by a need for larger stores to offer more food items, as well as canopy covered gas pumps.
“Set aside anything that’s going on in the community, that [East Main Street] store compared to this store, as we continue to expand our offerings, we just need more space,” Sheetz said. “Bigger kitchen, bigger bathrooms, expanded gas.”
In 2015, the Westminster Common Council voted to annex an 8.5-acre parcel along Baltimore Boulevard, including the acre parcel on which the new store sits, it’s large red canopies easily visible from the road — a signal to those who are familiar with the franchise that gas, and made to order food, is available inside.
It’s a store brand and layout familiar to people in Taneytown, including Rosemary Kitzinger, who came to Westminster on Thursday morning specifically for the grand opening.
“My children love Sheetz, especially Made to Order — fulfills teenage stomachs,” she said. “It’s convenient, we’ve always had a good experience at all the other Sheetz, so we are happy to see one come to this area.”
Terri Hamburg-Derry, also of Taneytown, and her four children also came out to the opening, but they were hardly familiar with Sheetz before moving to Carroll County from Baltimore County eight months ago.
“We didn’t have a Sheetz down there,” she said. “When we had traveled we had stopped at a couple of Sheetz but didn’t really know anything about them.”
Sheetz also donated the change collected in its Maryland stores from 2017 to the Special Olympics of Maryland, presenting the organization with a check for $45,431 Thursday, another reason Kitzinger said she wanted to come out and support the store opening.
“I advocate for children with special needs and disabilities,” she said. “I have children with disabilities, so I love to see the local support for a great organization.”
“We try to be good members of the community,” Sheetz added.
And Kitzinger represents a community that reciprocates — when the doors finally opened at the new store a little after 11 a.m., she was the very first in line at the cash register, making the very first transaction.