PONTIAC, Ill. — Wally’s has a mission to completely reimagine what people associate with travel centers.
While the industry has traditionally catered to the professional trucking community, Wally’s opened in September 2020 with a family focus and the moniker: “Home of the Great American Road Trip.”
“Wally’s is truly the ultimate travel center for everyone, but we really wanted to home in on the Midwest traveler and create the ultimate destination for them and their families,” Wally’s President and CEO Michael Rubenstein told Convenience Store News. “Whether you’re a foodie looking for the ultimate snack spot, shopping for last-minute luxury gifts or just in the market for a clean restroom and a full tank of gas (or charged battery), we have something for everyone.”
Located in Pontiac, on Interstate 55, along Route 66, the travel center is situated at roughly the midway point between the two major Midwest cities of Chicago and St. Louis. The decision on where to build the inaugural Wally’s was a culmination of years of driving this corridor and looking for a good midpoint that has accessibility, visibility, easy on and off exits, and a strong and viable workforce and community.
Drawing inspiration from family road trips of the 1970s and 1980s, Wally’s features the look and feel of an old-school road trip, but paired with contemporary travel center amenities. Designed in-house, the retailer boasts a modern, retro brand that incorporates a sense of Route 66 pride, which visitors feel from the moment they step through the door.
Among the unique features weaving retro branding with modern amenities are: a retail section anchored by a vintage Winnebago trailer where customers can shop and lounge; soda fountains displaying brand labels from the 1970s and 1980s; an Instagram-worthy taxidermy display that changes with the seasons; and a T-shirt wall offering designs created by the Wally’s team — ranging from a “Midwest Vibes” tee, to a tie-dye tee, to a faux mechanic’s shirt.
“Our retail selection really sets Wally’s apart. Rather than go through a couple major distributors to supply our products, we carefully curated a robust shopping experience from a wide range of vendors,” Rubenstein explained. “Whether our customers need a last-minute gift or just want to browse for themselves, we made it a point to curate a selection for everyone. We have a huge range of products — teething rings, BAGGU bags, jade face rollers, Solo Stoves, candles, accent pillows, hats, sleeping bags, and more.”
Wally’s is also focused on delivering diverse and elevated fresh food items for on-the-go families. For starters, a carving station offers barbecue brisket and pulled pork sandwiches, which can be complemented with a sweet treat from its section of just-baked desserts.
On the beverage side, Wally’s offers more than 60 soda-fountain flavors and 12 slushie options, in addition to a gourmet coffee bar featuring Intelligentsia coffee, nitro cold brew, alternative milks such as oat milk, and Circle kombucha on tap.
To fill the need for road-trip snacks, Wally’s features a beef jerky wall and a popcorn station offering a range of fun flavors popped fresh daily, as well as packaged chips, candy, fruit and vegetables.
Wally’s is also dedicated to providing old-fashioned courtesy with all the modern technology and contemporary amenities travelers have come to expect, noted Rubenstein. This includes:
- State-of-the-art restrooms with more than 40 stalls;
- A full-time facility manager onsite 24/7;
- 76 fueling stations and four electric vehicle charging stations with 50k-watt chargers;
- Free in-store Wi-Fi;
- A walk-in cooler providing access to beer, wine and liquor;
- A general store with camping supplies and road trip essentials; and
- A fun collection of Wally’s merchandise spanning shirts, hats, mugs, bumper stickers and other accessories.
According to Rubenstein, the company is “laser-focused” on ensuring its Pontiac location is the best it can be, down to the smallest details. In the future, the retailer has plans to bring Wally’s to additional states throughout the nation.