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Little General Store Preps for Natural Disasters

BECKLEY, W. Va. -- As CSNews Online reported on Wednesday, 3,527 monthly weather records for heat, rain and snow were broken in 2012. The extreme weather conditions -- from wind storms to snowfall to Superstorm Sandy -- brought many businesses to a standstill and convenience stores were no different.

However, Little General Store Inc. is now taking steps to make sure its stores are prepared for whatever Mother Nature brings. Greg Darby, president of the Beckley, W. Va.-based c-store and gas station chain, told the Daily Mail the company is installing generators so at least one Little General can remain open and serve as a hub in each region the company serves.

"We're in the service industry," Darby said. "I think it's important we're doing that for the consumers. By doing that, we're protecting the customers."

In late June, a derecho -- a cluster of thunderstorms that produce widespread wind damage -- left 78 Little General convenience stores without electricity. Four months later to the day, Superstorm Sandy left 47 stores without power, according to the newspaper.

"As we build new stores, we're putting generators in them," Darby said. "We're also putting some on trailers, to move around."

A generator that is large enough to power a modern-day convenience store and gas station costs $50,000 to $60,000, he added, and it can't guarantee that the store will repain open.

"If we can't keep fuel coming to a store, that's a problem," Darby said. "After Sandy, the fuel terminals were out of power and some roads were too bad for trucks to get to our stores."

Weather-related issues are just one hurdle Little General faces as it grows its presence in West Virginia, Ohio and Virginia. The bulk of its 110 convenience stores are in its home state and the retailer opened its first Ohio location in September.

Darby told the news outlet the company's goal is to rebuild one store every year as Little General sites face increased competition from other c-store chains with bigger stores and more gas pumps. Convenience stores have outgrown their typical 2,000-square-foot, four gas pump footprint to reach 6,000 square feet with a restaurant and 10 gas pumps, he said.

"If it's a good location that could be better, you try to expand it or put a restaurant in with it," Darby explained. "I think the life of a store is about 20 years. Then it needs to be redone."

In addition to rebuilds, Little General is growing its portfolio with new stores. A new location in Quincy, W. Va., is slated to open in April and a new convenience store is under construction in Fairmont, W. Va. Darby also said the retailer would like to expand in southwestern Virginia -- where it always has a presence -- and enter the Kentucky market.

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