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Weigel’s celebrates 80 years of ‘wow’

Weigel’s Farm Stores Inc. owner Billy Weigel stands with the Toyota Scion the convenience store chain will be giving away this summer during its “80 Days of Wow,” celebrating the store’s 80th anniversary.- Heather Mays/farragutpress
Weigel’s Farm Stores is celebrating its 80th anniversary this summer with 80 days of giveaways, prizes and rewards to its customers.

“We’re giving away $200,000 worth of prizes. ... There is a winner every day,” Weigel’s owner, Billy Weigel, said.

Prizes are being given out through social media, including Facebook and Twitter, and to Reward Card members. Prizes include John Deere tractors, SeaDoos and even a Toyota Scion.

The “80 Days of Wow” began June 13, and marks 80 years from the time Weigel’s “milked its first cow,” Billy said.

Weigel’s began as a dairy farm in Powell in 1931, where the convenience store headquarters still are based. Billy’s father, William, began taking un-pasteurized pints of milk to a small store near The University of Tennessee, where he attended school. By 1935, he’d bought a used pasteurizer — the first in Knoxville — and began delivering milk to homes in the area, under the name Broadacres Dairy.

“They would hand-bottle them and then hand-cap each bottle,” Billy said.

When Oak Ridge was built during the Manhattan Project days, Broadacres could barely keep up with the demand the sudden influx of nearly 40,000 people brought.

By the 1950s, the dairy was phasing out its home delivery business plan, as former housewives kept working out of the home after World War II ended. William cautioned Billy that it was the end of the dairy business, and advised him to become a doctor.

Instead, Billy graduated college with an English major.

He then returned home to change the business into one concentrated on a walk-in milk store called Weigel’s, which Billy built off Oak Ridge Highway.

About that time, Billy heard about a convenience store convention — the third annual — being held in Washington, D.C., and decided to attend.

“We’d never even heard the words ‘convenience store’ here,” Billy said.

When Billy returned from the convention with more new ideas, Weigel’s became Knoxville’s first convenience store, with special hours from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

In addition to the longer hours, one of Billy’s more unusual early gimmicks paid off in big dividends for him.

“When I first started, I hired only retired men, 65 years and older. They were all part-time people ... it was just kind of a gimmick that worked because they loved people and they were having a good time.

“For them, working was an opportunity, not a job, because nobody else would hire them. They were friendly, loved people, always arrived 10 minutes early and never missed a day ... They were kind of my mentors; not my employees,” Billy said.

“I called all of them ‘Mr.,’ and they called me ‘Billy,’” he added with a laugh.

As time went on, Billy would expand the convenience stores with ICEE machines and self-service gas pumps — both of which Weigel’s premiered in Knoxville — and, of course, “the best coffee in town.”

Weigel’s now has 56 stores and nearly 500 employees, with five new stores planned for this year.

One of the new locations includes space in The Markets at Choto development at the corner of Kingston Pike and Choto Road.

“Choto is coming,” Billy said.

The Choto store, which is expected to be built next year, will feature a more residential look than many other Weigel’s locations; include a stacked stone and brick exterior with LED lights that won’t affect neighboring residents.

The convenience stores are right now expanding their food service, selling “buns on the run” — sausage patties baked inside homemade biscuits — each morning, as well as “fresh-made sandwiches at lunch.”

Billy said the plan for the chain’s future was for the store to remain family owned.

“But you have to grow and change. We’ve been four different businesses on this property we’re still on. You have to adapt.”


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